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G 



I 



LADY LAUEA 



VOL. I. 



LADY LAUEA 



BY 



MARY ELIZABETH CHRISTIE 



L\ THREE VOLUMES 
VOL. I. 




STRAHAN A2sD COMPANY LIMITED 
34. PATERNOSTER ROW. LONDON 



Ail rigkt4 iii>!Tvni. 



Hazell, Watson, and Viney, Printers, London and Aylesbury. 



vl 



TO 

B. A. C 



' / too have longed for trenchant force. 
And will like a dividing spear; 
Have praised Vie keen, unscrupulous course, 
Which knows no doubt, which feels no fear. 

But in th€ world I learnt . . . 

That will, thai energy, though ra7-e, 
Are yet far, far less rare than love. ' 



^^ 




^M 


^^Mm 



CHAPTER I. 




old 



Oft expectation fails, and most oft there 
Where most it promises ; and oft it liits 
\Yhere hope is coldest and despair most fits.' 

ANY times has it been my fate 
to make the round of the 

galleries at Ai'dgwen while an 
servant of the house told to a 
dozen or so of visitors the story of the 
lives and deaths of the lords and ladies 
whose pictures hung upon the walls. 
For Ai'dgwen was the show-place of our 
neighbourhood, and whenever we had 
friends staying with us we used to 
make a point of driving them over to 
see the castle and its grounds. You 

VOL. I. 1 



2 LADY LAURA. 

might therefore reasonably expect me to 
preface my story of Lady Laura with 
an historical sketch of her ancestry. 
I ought to be able to tell you on what 
field the first knight of Gwyn won his 
spurs, for what services the barony of 
Ehoos was granted to his grandson, and 
all the reasons of state policy that led 
to the elevation of the fourth Baron 
Ehoos to the earldom of St. Asaph now 
enjoyed by his descendants. All these 
things and many more I should have 
at my fingers' ends, had I profited 
duly by the opportunities of my early 
life. But I must confess that on the 
occasion of those visits to Ardgwen 
my mind was apt to Vv^ander away from 
the details of a past in which I had 
no part in order to busy itself with 
speculations about the every-day doings 
of the actual occupants of the castle. It 
is true that I had not much more in 



LADY LAURA. 3 

common with the living Gwynnes than 
with their dead forefathers, for we did 
not belong to ' county- society,' and I 
never had a chance of setting foot in 
the castle except on the days when it 
was thrown open for a few hours to 
all the respectable world. But I knew 
every member of the family by sight, 
and I had learned their names and ages 
out of a shabby copy of Debrett's 
Peerage that used to lie on the table 
of the Cresford Eeading-room. And 
though I would fain claim credit for 
having despised the pomps and glories 
of the world from the time my god- 
fathers and godmothers renounced them 
in my name, truth compels me to say 
that in those days the thing I desired 
beyond all else in life was that some 
happy accident should bring about an 
intimacy between myself and the mag- 
nates of my world, and that I never 



4 LADY LAURA. 

started on one of our expeditions to 
the castle without a secret persuasion 
that this time I must come in for the 
romantic meeting that was to lead to 
such glorious results. And so I went 
from room to room, paying no attention 
to the guide's narrative, and glancing 
very hurriedly at the curious and costly 
treasures of the house in which other 
visitors seemed to find inexhaustible 
sources of interest. All my interest 
was on the watch for signs of present 
habitation : an open book left upon a 
table was a signal to me to prepare 
for a meeting in the next room, the 
commonest piece of needlework with a 
needle sticking in it was more curious 
to me than the most exquisite Gobelin 
tapestry, an unfinished water-colour 
drawing with the paint still wet upon 
the paper fascinated me more than all 
the Vandykes and reputed Holbeins 



LADY LAURA. 5 

in tlie collection — thi'illing me vdtli 
a sense of living, working presences, 
tantalizingly near, and yet invisible and 
apparently inaccessible as the very dead 
themselves. The miich-desii-ed meeting 
was never granted me, and time after 
time as I came avay fi'om the castle 
all that I earned home vras a weary 
sense of disappointment, and a suspicion 
that the reproachful note which made 
itself felt in the old servant's voice as 
he delivered sentence after sentence cf 
precious information was dii'ected with 
special comminatory meaning at in- 
attentive me. 

Xo, that was not quite all. There was 
one room in the castle — the last of the 
long suite of apartments to which sight- 
seers were admitted — oi which every 
detail impressed itself minutely on my 
memorv. And vet I saw that room 
more rarely than any other, because it 



6 LADY LAURA. 

was in constant use as a sitting-room, 
and could only be shown when the family- 
were away. It was separated from the 
other rooms by about twenty yards of 
narrow stone passage into which the 
afternoon sunlight shone dimly through 
stained-glass windows placed high in the 
wall. I remember that I always felt 
the moment of entering the last room 
of the connected suite to be a very 
critical one, for if the family were 
away the door opening from it into 
this passage would be open — if they 
were at home, it would be closed : that 
moment therefore decided whether or 
not the meeting was an impossibility 
for that day. 

I might certainly have satisfied myself 
on this point by listening to the commu- 
nications that the servants at the door 
were ready enough to make to all comers ; 
but to do this might have robbed the 



LADY LAURA. 7 

visit of all its excitement, whereas the 
other course had the advantage of offer- 
ing consolation at the very moment that 
disappointment was made certain. For 
next to the pleasm-e I promised myself 
in meeting in the flesh some of the 
people of the house, was my delight in 
looking at the portraits which hung on 
the walls of this favourite room. Very 
much more interesting to me were those 
fresh, bright-coloured likenesses of living- 
people than the dim memorials of the 
manners and costumes of bygone days 
which covered the walls of the other 
rooms. And when tlieir story was told, 
I listened with breathless attention while 
names and birth- dates already famiHar 
to me were detailed with reverential 
accuracy. 

Let me describe those pictures. There 
was Lord St. Asaph as a very young 
man with large, dreamy forehead, kind- 



8 LADY LAURA. 

liDg eyes, and delicately cut month 
rich in subtle lines of feeling — a beau- 
tiful face full of fire and tenderness, in 
which people said it was no wonder 
that the world should once have read 
the promise of poetic power and pro- 
phesied great things of the young 
nobleman. No wonder either that he 
himself should have believed the pro- 
phecies, and not much wonder, added 
some made wise by the event, that hope 
was disappointed — seeing how the weak- 
ness of the head contradicted the promise 
of the countenance. 

I am repeating the remarks of other 
sight-seers. To me Lord St. Asaph's 
literary career was the least interest- 
ing thing about him, and the failure 
of his poetry made no deduction from 
the admiration with which I regarded 
his portrait. But, young as I was, I 
could not fail to be struck by the per- 



LADY LAURA. 9 

verse contrast between it and the com- 
panion picture of the majestic woman in 
dark-green riding habit and slouched felt 
hat, which represented Lady St. Asaph 
in the year of her marriage. As you 
looked from one to the other, it was 
impossible to escape the thought that 
husband and wife should have exchanged 
sexes, for the strong repose expressed in 
every line of Lady St. Asaph's face and 
figure produced an effect that was almost 
masculine by the side of the restless 
sensibility and extreme dehcacy of or- 
ganization that characterized the other. 
Between these two pictures was a 
crayon head of the eldest son of the 
house, Lord Ehoos, a rather plain boy, 
unlike both father and mother. Then, 
opposite to Lady St. Asaph, another 
crayon drawing represented three young 
daughters, all very hke their mother, 
and so near to one another in height 



lo LADY LAURA. 

that it was easy to tell at a glance that 
they had followed one another into the 
world in annual succession. I knew 
their names, Mary, Eachel, Sarah, and 
it was my dehght to forestall official 
information hy communicating them in 
eager whispers to any friend whose private 
ear I could command. Separated from 
this group hy an old-fashioned mirror was 
another, done by the same hand and 
bearing the same date, in which were 
represented a much younger boy and girl 
— the pets of the household, in whose 
favour all the laws of discipline made 
for the benefit of the elders were said to 
be dangerously relaxed. There was a 
difference of about two years between 
these children — the girl being the 
younger. In the boy the fine propor- 
tions and brilliant colouring of the 
mother were again reproduced, but the 
girl was of a different type: she had 



LADY LAURA. ii 

darker liaii', smaller limbs, less colour, 
less fulness of outline than the elder 
sisters — evidently she did not inherit 
from the mother. You ^vere tempted to 
find her Hke the father, and indeed a 
good case might be made for the re- 
semblance by matching feature with 
feature and explaining away differences 
of expression as due to the counteracting 
tendencies of the maternal stock. In- 
genious people, fond of analysis, would 
often amuse themselves with thus break- 
ing up the little Lady Laura into her 
constituent parts, and pointing out just 
how much was derived from the father 
and how much from the mother, until 
their neat theories were rudely upset 
by a glance at another pictui'e, which, 
though not a modern one, was yet 
allowed to hang side by side with the 
portraits of the living. It was a pictui-e 
of a very young girl, unformed and yet 



12 LADY LAURA. 

not ungainly— thanks to the slim height 
of the figure which asserted itself grace- 
fully in spite of the clumsy black drapery 
and preternaturally long-waisted bodice 
in which the fashion of the time en- 
veloped it. She wore a ruff of moderate 
size, which opened in front so as to 
reveal a very small round throat, on 
which the head rested with easy sim- 
plicity. There were no jewels in her hair, 
which was simply knotted on the top 
of her head, nor on her hands, which 
were of a nervous, sensitive type, too 
thin for beauty but full of character 
and expression that made them more 
interesting than many beautiful hands. 
Everything about her was expressive of 
that kind of refined purity which touches 
asceticism without catching its asperity. 
The features were delicately aquiline, 
the complexion clear but colourless, and 
the eyes — but how shall I describe those 



LADY LAURA. 13 

eyes so as to convey to you any idea of 
the hannting sadness of their gaze ? I 
cannot say whether they were grey or 
brown, hut I know that they were large 
and dark, and veiled by long soft lashes, 
and that they seemed to follow me all 
over the room with looks that now pierced 
and penetrated, and now held me fast in 
tender contemplation, as if, having dis- 
covered my secret soal, she were pausing 
to weigh it in a loving balance before pass- 
ing sentence on its vanity. 

There was a mysterious fascination for 
me in everything connected with this 
picture — above all, in the strange like- 
ness that linked it with the little girl 
in the modern portrait; for unmis- 
takably the true ancestress of the little 
Laura in the white frock and coral 
necklace was this dark-eyed kinswoman 
who claimed her, across the generations, 
by a likeness traceable, not so much in 



14 LADY LAURA. 

line of feature and curve of limb, as in 
the spiritual meanings of their meeting 
looks. The resemblance was so strong, 
that sometimes as I looked from one 
picture to the other the fancy would 
come to me that the elder spirit had 
been born anew in the child of to-day, 
and that the life that was just dawning 
was but a continuation of that which 
had set more than two centuries ago. 
That the two were namesakes was an 
accident so much in sympathy with my 
superstition, that I was tempted to find 
it a con'oborating fact. 

There was a sad story attaching to 
this Lady Laura of old days. She was 
the daughter of the narrow-browed earl 
and the high-cheeked countess of Eliza- 
bethan times whose pictures hung in the 
gallery divided by an uncovered panel. 
In this blank space it was said that their 
daughter's picture had been originally 



LADY LAURA. 15 

hung. But the poor girl had sinned 
against the family orthodoxies, lapsing 
into the faith of Rome a generation after 
the Gwynnes had adopted Protestant 
doctrine ; she had taken conventual 
vows, though forbidden the life of the 
convent, and having estranged the affec- 
tion of her family by refusing a marriage 
that was desired for her, she had pined 
away in loneliness of heart stedfast to 
the end to the convictions of her con- 
science ; and when at last her persecuted 
spirit found sanctuary in death, the stem 
Puritanism of her father had taken a 
barren vengeance by commanding her 
portrait to be taken from the wall and 
hidden out of sight of tlie family her 
apostacy had disgraced. 

And so for generations it had stood 
in a lumber-room with its face towards 
the wall, till it was discovered one day 
by the present earl; who was struck by 



i6 LADY LAURA. 

its artistic merits, and at once gave it 
a place of honour in his favourite room. 
There it hangs now, and connoisseurs 
consider it the gem of the collection, 
while others who are not connoisseurs 
say it interests them because it alone 
of all the old pictures in the house 
strikes them as representing not a period 
or a fashion, but a human being who 
once lived and suffered. So does art 
bring about revenges — extorting sym- 
pathy from the future for those whom 
the present will not know, and forcing 
us to pay a toll of tears to the pictured 
sorrow, while we pass by the living one 
with a dry-eyed stare. 

There was something very touching 
to me about the idea of this young 
girl, for whom her own generation had 
no tenderness, being brought back into 
the warm circle of family affections by 
the appreciation of late descendants; 



LADY LAURA. 17 

and I liked Lord and Lady St. Asaph 
for nothing so well as for having 
made her godmother to their youngest 
daughter. 

But sometimes the thought of the 
relation filled me with pain by suggest- 
ing that perhaps the little girl was 
destined to inherit not the name and 
mien only, but the sorrows, of her ances- 
tress. More often, however, my imagina- 
tion moved upon happier lines, and I 
pleased myself with fancying that the 
soul that had suffered three hundred 
years ago had returned to the world to 
try its fortunes over again under the 
happier auspices of a kinder age. I 
believed that all the sweet and sacred 
things of life that sorrow and death 
had stolen from the Laura of the past, 
were being guarded like the treasure- 
hoard of some old fable, to be repaid 
with interest to the Laura of to-day. 

VOL. I. ig 2 



i8 LADY LAURA. 

Deeply, however, as this picture in- 
terested me, the tribute of admiration 
that I paid to it was but secondary to 
that which I accorded to the portrait 
of Lady St. Asaph herself. There was 
no doubt that for me hers was the 
picture of the house. The first time 
I saw it I was a little disappointed 
that she should be so plainly dressed — 
I had expected a blaze of velvet and 
diamonds ; but after a little I thought 
she looked grander in the long plain 
drapery that showed so well the fine 
outlines of her figure, and I became 
convinced that no ornaments could 
have been so becoming to her aquihne 
features and brilliant complexion, as 
the waving rim of the felt hat that 
shaded her forehead and the dark 
ostrich feather that swept over her hair 
as if to redeem with a feminine grace 
the severity of the remainder of the 



LADY LAURA. 19 

costume. How well I remember the 
proud air with which the butler used 
to pause before the picture and say, 
* The present countess ! ' — in a tone that 
seemed to challenge comparison with 
all the countesses of the past. And 
how I used to wonder as he went on to 
say that she was the only daughter of 
the Eeverend Theophilus Eden, rector of 
Wetherby in Lincolnshire. I never could 
believe that she had looked like that 
when she was plain Miss Eden, and yet 
the picture had been painted imme- 
diately after her marriage. It seemed 
to me that to have that self-contained 
look in every line of face and figure, 
one must be born and bred a countess. 

^ A lordly woman ! ' ejaculated one day 
a visitor who evidently felt as I did ; ^ I 
should have thought she must have been 
born in the purple.' 

The stranger had hit on the right 



20 LADY LAURA. 

epithet : she was a lordly woman. Not 
masculine, for that suggests ungraceful 
angularity, a harsh voice, and a bluster- 
ing manner ; and certainly none of these 
were characteristics of Lady St. Asaph. 
Her outlines were large and simple, with- 
out ceasing to be round and womanly; 
her voice was clear and strong and cer- 
tainly a little loud for a woman, but its 
tones were firm and equable, and as 
incapable of the ungentle clamour of the 
scold as of the thin shrillness in which 
weaker femininity complains. Then her 
manner — there was reserve and measure 
in all that she did and said; her very 
movement had more repose in it than 
has the quiescence of most people. Some 
there were who made a fault of this, 
complaining that she was too passionless, 
that she wanted emotional warmth and 
colour. But to me it seemed that this 
majestic calm was of the very essence 



LADY LAURA. 21 

of lier rank — sphering her serenely above 
the fluttering agitations of the ordinary 
woman's life. 

But the old servant was right in his 
account of her origin : the lordly air had 
come to her independently of the position 
it fitted so well. Her childhood and 
girlhood had been passed in a secluded 
rectory house in the fen-country of Lin- 
colnshu-e, where she had known little 
society but that of farmers and farm- 
labourers. For her mother had died 
while she was still a child ; and her 
father was a man of ascetic character 
who allowed himself no relaxation from 
his ministerial labours, save such as 
was to be found in communion with 
the divines, philosophers, and historians 
whose solid tomes filled ^^ shelves of 
his library to the exclusion of all lighter 
literature; and after his wife's death he 
fell into unsocial habits, so that by 



22 LADY LAURA. 

degrees all neighbourly intercourse with 
the clergy and squirearchy of the county 
was dropped, and the interests of the 
parish and the library had to be sufficient 
to the daughter as to the father. Mr. 
Eden would indeed have laughed to scorn 
the notion that his child could need 
other companionship than that of the 
philosophers of the old world and the 
Christian saints and Fathers with whom 
he was careful to acquaint her early ; and 
Eachel herself would probably have found 
little that was congenial to the severe 
quahty of her mind in the society of boys 
and girls whose duties and pleasures 
knew no wider range than that of the 
schoolroom and the playground. Of 
regular instruction she never had any 
from the time when her mother taught 
her to read and write, and to put even 
stitches into a patchwork quilt. For all 
education beyond these first elements 



LADY LAURA. 23 

she was thrown upon her own mental 
activity and the direction of chcum- 
stances. And yet, early called to the 
duties and responsibilities of womanhood, 
she was never found unequal to her part. 
Instinctively she seemed to fit herself 
for whatever service was required of her, 
intuitively to acquire the knowledge that 
could help ; and as she possessed from 
childhood the air of seK-contained power 
which caused the visitor at Ardgwen to 
pronounce her a ^lordly woman,' she 
never failed to obtain that confidence 
from the outer world which is such a 
valuable auxiliary of the most assm^ed 
confidence in self. 

When her mother died, and the old 
servant who had nursed her as a baby, 
and was therefore disposed to expect that 
she would remain a baby all her days, 
showed an inclination to assume the 
household government, Eachel effectually 



24 LADY LAURA. 

dismissed the idea by saying, ^ 1 will see 
to things; mamma wished me to keep 
house.' And though the speaker was an 
unformed child of fourteen, whose hair 
was cut short like a boy's and whose 
plain black frock was protected by a very 
juvenile pinafore, the manner of speech 
was so self-possessed, and the' tone of 
voice so conclusive, that the keys were 
given up without protest, and thence- 
forward Kachel kept her father's house, 
ordering dinner daily and casting-up 
tradesmen's books with the gravity and 
regularity of a veteran housekeeper. 
Then, as time went on, and the rector's 
failing sight made him dependent on 
younger eyes for the continuance of the 
literary occupations in which he de- 
lighted, Eachel naturally became secre- 
tary and reader to her father; and, as 
she had bent her mind to mastering 
domestic and parochial problems when 



LADY LAURA. 25 

the duties of the household and the 
parish were asked of her, so she gave 
herself to the study of Greek and Latin 
when she found that a knowledge of 
these would make her a more efficient 
help to her father. 

This hahit of doing as a matter of 
course whatever had to be done was a 
very striking and essential thing in her 
character. She was entu'ely without 
that form of humour that finds food for 
merriment in any and every conjuncture 
of life that is inconsistent with conven- 
tional expectation : a child called to a 
woman's work, a strong man lending him- 
self to the petty tasks that make up the 
daily feminine existence, a great heart 
imprisoned in narrow and cripphng cir- 
cumstances, never stirred her smiles. All 
the actual facts of life were confronted 
by her in that spirit of simple seriousness 
that calls nothing common or unclean, 



26 LADY LAURA. 

provided it be true and useful. Of this 
habit of mind much was doubtless due 
to her almost exclusive association with 
people whose lots had fallen among the 
more obdurate and pressing facts of exist- 
ence. Familiar contact with people 
whose normal day was one of strife with 
hunger and nakedness taught her many 
lessons that are denied to those who live 
their lives in the upper and middle worlds, 
where privation means a diminution of 
luxury, and ruin is a phrase for having 
to pass from the front street to the back. 
She knew the labourers of Wetherby as 
men and women of varying characters 
and circumstances, and she considered 
their life-problems individually, as we all 
do the life-problems of our friends and 
acquaintances — thus escaping the temp- 
tation, so seductive to those who merely 
contemplate want and misery from a 
remote luxurious platform, of learning to 



LADY LAURA. 27 

look on the poor as an exceptional class, 
to whom a dispensation of all work and 
no play is certainly beneficial, and per- 
haps even mysteriously pleasant. It 
never occurred to her to lump their lives 
together as the lives of the working class, 
any more than it occurs to you and me to 
lump together the lives of all the barristers 
or clergymen of our acquaintance ; neither 
did it occur to her to theorize about 
them. To her, the differing degrees of 
life were facts of nature, unalterable and 
inexplicable as the various orders in the 
animal and vegetable worlds ; and though 
she never deluded herself into thinking 
that all lots were equally pleasant, or that 
there was connection of cause and effect 
between intrinsic worth and social posi- 
tion, she saw that her circumstances 
fitted her to be in many ways the helper 
and adviser of the toihng people among 
whom she lived, and she supposed that 



28 LADY LAURA. 

she was but discharging the responsi- 
bilities of the position in which God had 
seen fit to place her by helping her 
friends to fulfil the duties of the more 
arduous stations which the same hand 
had appointed to them. Such was the 
simple old-world doctrine she heard from 
her father's pulpit and saw expressed in 
his daily life; and having little of the 
critical bias in her character, she accepted 
it in all humility, and strove conscien- 
tiously to act upon it. 

Amid such influences Eachel Eden grew 
to the age of four-and- twenty. Then 
her father died, and the world changed 
for her. Had it been possible for her to 
live on in the old house, she would pro- 
bably have chosen to do so, and would 
very likely have spent all her life among 
the Lincolnshire peasants whom she knew 
and loved. But, of course, the rectory 
had to be vacated for her father's sue- 



LADY LAURA. 29 

cessor, and Eachel in her loneliness felt 
helpless to shape a new way of life out 
of the fragments of the old one. Her 
greatness lay in her power of adapting 
herself to given circumstances, and her 
very excellence in this direction seemed 
to unfit her for the more creative task 
of shaping circumstances to fit herself. 
At the critical moment of her life her 
prayer was for guidance from without ; 
and when a distant cousin of her mother's, 
who was unknown to her except hy name, 
wrote to offer her a home in London, she 
accepted the offer in a spirit of super- 
stitious submission, making no condition 
except that her old nurse should be 
allowed to accompany her. The cousin, 
a handsome woman of five-and-thirty, 
was a widow of some years' standing, who 
after a suitable period of retirement was 
desirous of returning to the world of 
fashion where she had formerly held a 



30 LADY LAURA. 

position of some distinction ; and in 
inviting Eachel to live with her she 
was motived quite as much by the desire 
to secure for herself the support of com- 
panionship as by disinterested care for 
the orphan. She made no difficulty 
about Eachel's stipulation, and it was 
quietly arranged that the two women 
should live together. 

At her cousin's house Miss Eden 
found herself in the midst of a bril- 
liant literary circle of which she was 
before long recognised as a conspicuous 
ornament. She was introduced to men 
of science and women of fashion, she 
talked to poets and was asked to sit 
by painters ; and before the time of 
mourning for her father was at an end 
she had achieved a wide reputatior 
in London drawing-rooms. Happily she 
was herself quite unconscious of her 
fame ; and when at last the black gown 



LADY LAURA. 31 

was exchanged for a coloured one, and 
site began to accompany her cousin into 
the world, those who knew her already 
by the reputation of her beauty and 
talents found nothing so captivating in 
the beautiful Miss Eden as the almost 
childlike simplicity with which she ig- 
nored the admiration that surrounded her. 
She became universally popular and 
great marriages were predicted for her. 
Nevertheless three seasons passed by 
and she was still Miss Eden, and people 
began to discover that their paragon 
was after all not faultless. Some even 
went so far as to find in her best points 
nothing but the defect of opposite 
qualities. What was once admii'ed as 
sincerity was now condemned as blunt- 
ness, her simplicity became a kind of 
narrowness, her strength of character 
mere hardness resulting from her want 
of womanly tenderness and delicate 



32 LADY LAURA. 

sensibility. Nay, her very beauty was 
a thing to wonder at rather than admire, 
so deficient was it in all the characters 
that touch the springs of poetry and love. 
Not that Eachel herself was much 
changed during her three London sea- 
sons : her qualities remained, her defects 
were not new. But it was with her 
as with many a conqueror who in the 
beginning has carried all before him by 
the boldness and novelty of his assault, 
and yet fails in the after- work of settle- 
ment from defect of sympathy with the 
conquered race. After the brief excite- 
ment of her first introduction she realised 
sadly that she would never be other 
than a stranger in the world of London 
society. And in truth, though there 
had been much of wholesome influence 
in the circumstances of her early life, 
it must be admitted that the training 
she had received in the Lincolnshire 



LADY LAURA. 33 

parsonage had not been without its 
defects. It was unfortunately calculated 
to develop only such tendencies as were 
already strongest in her — exaggerating 
the natural severity of her character, and 
contributing nothing that could stimulate 
imagination or awaken aesthetic sensi- 
bility. Early experience famiharised her 
with types of moral excellence cast in 
moulds too rough for the niceties of 
grace, and characters of essential worth 
distorted into almost repulsive ugliness 
by the hard knocks that virtue and inte- 
grity are compelled to give and take when 
they find themselves engaged in a hand- 
to-hand struggle with the coarsest forms 
of vice. She saw truth and honesty 
turn aggressive by dint of daily protest 
against dishonesty and lying, self-depend- 
ence sour into moroseness from disgust 
at surrounding servility, and chastity 
grow hard and fierce in difficult resistance 

VOL. I. 3 



34 LADY LAURA. 

to the temptations of brutish circum- 
stance ; and insensibly she caught the 
tone of the people who claimed her 
sympathy. Society was not wrong when 
it complained that Miss Eden was de- 
ficient in all those subtleties and refine- 
ments of feeling that are needed to 
chasten into a fine harmony the austerer 
gifts of heart and intellect ; but it was 
wrong when it went on to say that she 
despised in others the graces that were 
wanting in herself. 

It created universal astonishment when 
at length it was announced that Eachel 
was engaged to be married to Lord St. 
Asaph. She was the last woman people 
would ever have suspected him of choos- 
ing, and he the last man to whom they 
would have imagined her capable of sur- 
rendering her proud maidenhood. He, the 
most subtly complicated of men — the poet 
of politics, the dreamer of science, the 



LADY LAURA. 35 

democratic nobleman, the fastidious re- 
former : she, the beauty without senti- 
ment, the woman without weakness, whom 
all men admired, but whom none as yet had 
dared to love. It was incomprehensible 
except upon the supposition that the lady 
had spread snares from which the chivalry 
of the gentleman had not known how 
to extricate itself honourably ! So said 
society in angry mortification. For Lord 
St. Asaph was just then its darhng 
child, and every mother in fashionable 
London felt that Miss Eden had robbed 
her of the most desirable of sons-in-law. 
Those were days when society, well- 
recovered from the shock of the French 
Eevolution, was beginning to feel itself 
once more settled on the firm basis of 
time-honoured orthodoxies, social and 
political. Jacobinism had receded into 
safe historical distance, and the general 
subsidence of minds into propriety which 



36 LADY LAURA. 

had been at first welcome as a reaction 
against anarchy, was beginning to be felt 
as just a little dull. It was time to 
relax one's conservatism and hold out 
an encouraging hand to new ideas which 
after late severe lessons might doubtless 
be trusted to behave themselves decently 
and to understand that the condition of 
their admission to polite society was 
their willingness to remain ideal. Fine 
ladies found a safe vent for philanthro- 
pic humours in coquetting with Utopian 
theories about the future of the working 
classes, and fine gentlemen whose minds 
were not devoutly bent made an easy 
title to philosophic dignity out of a 
graceful scepticism lightly poised in the 
region of intuitive theism. This was 
the state of thought and feeling in that 
section of society in which Miss Eden 
lived. She had little sympathy with it. 
Nevertheless she shared the general 



LADY LAURA. 37 

admiration of the young nobleman who 
was looked upon as its prophet and 
apostle. Personally handsome and full 
of charm, Lord St. Asaph would pro- 
bably have won the hearts of the 
women of his world even without the 
intellectual gifts which secured him recog- 
nition from the men, and which, balanced 
as they were by correlative defects, made 
him a most fit leader for a clique that 
wanted graceful expression for its ideas 
at the same time that it deprecated any 
translation of them into immediate action. 
He had an abundance of the enthusiasm 
that makes speech eloquent, but none of 
the more fatal kind that vents itself in 
deeds ; and though he prided himself be- 
fore all things on his political aptitudes, 
his friends knew well that if he ever in- 
fluenced the destinies of mankind at all 
it would be as a writer rather than as a 
statesman. 



38 LAD V LAURA. 

It was at the moment of his highest 
popularity, when all London was devour- 
ing his first volume of poetry and re- 
viewers were hailing him as the prophet 
of a new literary revelation, that he pro- 
posed to Eachel Eden and w^as accepted 
by her in much the same spirit as that 
in which five years ago she had accepted 
her cousin's invitation to come and hve 
in London. She was not in love with 
Lord St. Asaph, but she respected and 
admired him, and in the life he invited 
her to share she saw a prospect of 
greater usefulness than in that she was 
leading at present. For she sympathized 
with the social views he had expressed 
in his poetry, and she never doubted that 
as his wife it would be in her power to 
translate them into the prose of practice. 
She did not feign any romantic attach- 
ment, but she told him simply that she 
knew no man to whom she could more 



LADY LAURA. 39 

contentedly confide the guardianship of 
her life. 

Oh, reader, do you need to be told that 
she was disappointed ? That first volume 
of poetry, in spite of its many beauties, 
did not succeed in materially modifying 
the opinions of men. And what was 
more surprising to the public though not 
to the author, it had no successor. The 
talents that bid so fair in their first 
blossoming withered before the time of 
fruit, and within a few years of her mar- 
riage Eachel saw her husband dethroned 
and forgotten. She could have borne 
the neglect of the world, if her own judg- 
ment had not told her it was just. 
She would have grieved little over the 
loss of literary fame and social ascen- 
dency, had she been allowed to realise 
her di'eams of practical usefulness. But 
this might not be. Lord St. Asaph's 
vanity could not put up with a lower 



40 LADY LAURA. 

place in society than that to which he 
had first been bidden ; and disgusted 
with a world that would not be reformed 
by one volume of his poetry, he made 
up his mind that he and his ideas could 
not live in England. 

Accordingly Ardgwen was shut up, the 
London house was let, and Lord and 
Lady St. Asaph with their four young 
children went to live at Pau, which was 
then just coming into fashion as a place 
of refuge for impaired tempers, healths, 
and fortunes. 

But though the villa at Pau had been 
specially chosen because its retirement 
would favour the pursuit of poetry (for 
since the success of Poems for the 
People, politics had been definitively 
renounced in favour of literature). Lord 
St. Asaph soon discovered that the 
stimulus of social friction was necessary 
to literary production; and as his wife 



LADY LAURA. 41 

was reluctant to face the inconveniences 
of another move, he started alone to 
make the tour of the Eui^opean capitals 
while she and the childi'en remained 
at Pau. 

The traveller's life with its constant 
changes of scene and society proved so 
congenial to him that when at the end 
of a year he returned to his wife and 
children it was mth a mind hent on 
settling, if one may be allowed the para- 
dox, into a life of wanderings. Lady 
St. Asaph protested in vain : the demon 
of restlessness which possessed her 
husband could not be exorcised, and 
the only choice lay between letting him 
go alone, and resigning herself to the 
disagreeables of incessantly dragging 
from place to place an establishment of 
children, nurses, and governesses. She 
chose the latter alternative, and the next 
twelve years of her life were spent in 



42 LADY LAURA. 

roaming from one foreign town to another, 
residing a few months in this place and 
a few weeks in that, making acquaint- 
ances all over the world and friends 
nowhere, and glad in spite of herself 
when once a severe illness of her hus- 
band's made a year's continuous resi- 
dence at Florence an absolute necessity. 
She had hoped at the outset, that as 
the children grew older, reasons for 
returning to a settled life would be 
found in their educational needs. But, 
according to Lord St. Asaph, these could 
be fully met by allowing the girls to 
have lessons from the best masters in 
whatever place they happened to find 
themselves, and by sending the boy 
to Eton and letting him join them 
abroad in the holidays. 

That quiet year of nursing at Florence, 
and one too-short spell of summer-time 
spent most unexpectedly at Ardgwen in 



LADY LAURA. 43 

consequence of some family business 
that made Lord St. Asaph's presence 
at home imperatively necessary, were 
the bright spots in Lady St. Asaph's 
disappointed life — especially the visit 
to England in the com^se of which 
Laura was born. Through all her after- 
wanderings the sad woman carried about 
with her a fond remembrance of the 
beauty of that summer-time, of its rich- 
ness and its peace, its blazing flower-beds 
and cool green shade, its overloaded rose- 
bushes and meadows bright with flower- 
ing grasses, and cornfields just begin- 
ning to yellow in the sun. In spite of 
her long home-sickness she had started 
for England with a heavy heart, for 
Lord St. Asaph, determined that the 
visit should not be prolonged further 
than was absolutely necessary, had 
decreed that the children should be 
left behind, and the mother had parted 



44 LADY LAURA. 

from them with a painful foreboding of 
new trouble. But consolation had come 
with the baby that was born among 
the home-surroundings, and Laura was 
welcomed as the dawn of a better day. 
Both parents clung with especial tender- 
ness to the child that had first seen 
light in the old family-house, and for 
a time Lady St. Asaph hoped that she 
might now succeed in persuading her 
husband to remain in his own country. 
But in vain. After two months spent 
at Ardgwen, he declared himself worse 
in health and spirits than he had ever 
been before, and Lady St. Asaph once 
more resigned herself to seeing all her 
life go by without the achievement of 
any of the purposes she cherished. 

She had long despaired of a term being 
ever put to their wanderings, when a 
proposal to return to England came un- 
solicited from her husband himself. For 



LADY LAURA. 45 

some years his health had been failing 
seriously, and Lady St. Asaph had begun 
to read in the growing restlessness of 
his disposition the symptoms of nervous 
disease and to look with terror to its 
possible development in the future. An 
uneasy melancholy, which had been all 
his life an intermittent foe, became con- 
stant with him after the illness at 
Florence ; and though for some time he 
continued to court society with his 
former devotion, he no longer seemed to 
derive any pleasure from it. All places 
now were dull to him, all people bored 
him. Variety no longer brought novelty; 
and at last, having as it were exhausted 
the changes of change, he resolved to re- 
turn to Ardgwen and settle down into the 
quiet monotony of English country life. 

And so they came home at last in 
a bright spring-time when the woods 
were gay with budding green, and swift 



46 LADY LAURA. 

showers were playing hide-and-seek with 
the sunshine among the worn battle- 
ments of the grey old castle. It was 
spring-time with the world, and to the 
sons and daughters the place seemed 
full of joyous welcomes, and their hearts 
turned with affection towards their 
home. But to the mother it felt hke 
autumn as she stood once more in the 
library and measured the flight of years. 
She looked long and sadly at the pictures 
on the wall ; then turned away from 
them and said, ^ We must have hke- 
nesses of our children here, for our own 
have become like ghosts.' 

Lady Laura was then a child six 
years old, but the elder sisters were 
blossoming into womanhood, and for their 
sakes Lady St. Asaph spent three suc- 
cessive seasons in London. She had 
reason to be proud of her daughters : 
they were all beautiful, and were more- 



LADY LAURA. 47 

over distinguished by unusual talent and 
originality. Mary was learned, Eachel 
was witty, and Sarah was universally 
declared to be charming. It was not 
long before suitable marriages were 
arranged for them. At the end of their 
second season Eachel and Sarah were 
both engaged to be married, the former 
to Lord Walworth, a man some twenty 
years her senior and remarkable chiefly 
for good temper and sound sense; the 
latter to Mr. Edward Tremadoc, a country 
gentleman of quiet tastes who owned a 
large property on the other side of the 
Welsh border. 

They were both married on one summer 
day in the little church at Nant-y-Gwyn, 
and the Gresford Chronicle was eloquent 
in describing the ceremony. Mary was 
married a year later to Captain Ernest 
Vane of the Eifle Brigade, and her 
wedding took place at St. George's, 



48 LADY LAURA. 

Hanover Square — a mistake, according 
to Nant-y-Grwyn opinion, which, assumed 
an ominous colour when rumours got 
abroad that the marriage was a less 
happy one than the other two had 
proved. Strange stories were circulated 
concerning the bride and bridegroom 
almost before the honeymoon was over. 
Some said that he was wild, some that 
she was severe. But it was not easy to 
get at the truth. Certain it is, however, 
that before they had been married seven 
months Lady Mary came back to her 
father's house without her husband, and 
stayed there so long that people began 
to talk of a separation. And before the 
anniversary of the wedding-day came 
round, the talkers learned with awe that 
a separation had indeed been effected — 
but by other means than those they 
thought of, for Captain Vane was killed 
by a fall from his horse, and Lady 



LADY LAURA. 49 

Mary was free from the uncongenial 
bond. 

You see, reader, that I have wandered 
fi'om the pictures to their originals, and 
have drawn on other sources of informa- 
tion than were afforded by those sight- 
seeing visits to Ardgwen. It is so. 
Those visits happened long ago, and 
though the wished-for meeting in the 
galleries was never vouchsafed me, I 
have in other ways, which I need not 
trouble you by detailing, come to know 
far more about the St. Asaph family 
than my wildest dreams ever promised. 
And what I know I shall be glad to tell 
you if you have curiosity to hear. Only 
I must warn you that my narrative will 
be barren of romantic incidents such as 
abound in the earHer history of the 
house. All I have to tell is a quiet 
story of modern days, in which is no 
mystery but such as is revealed in 

VOL. I. 4 



50 LADY LAURA, 

every imfolding of human character ; no 
horror but that which attends the pas- 
sage of pure spirits from dreamland into 
life ; no dramatic movement but the play 
of passion and principle among the 
shifting motives of the heart ; no out- 
come but the time-worn passage through 
error and repentance into the open spaces 
of forgiveness and atonement. 

If you will listen to me on these terms, 
we will leap together over an interval of 
twelve years, taking care to choose for 
our next visit to Ardgwen a day when 
the family are at home. 




CHAPTER II. 

' How far dare I praise him ? ' 

T is an autumn day twenty 
years ago, when life is going 
on after its usual quiet course 
both in the valley and on the heights. 
The village ah-eady Hes in shadow, for 
the short October afternoon is almost 
spent and the sun is sinking behind 
the pine-wood that crowns the western 
bank of the valley of the Gwen, while 
from the stream that winds along the 
bottom a chill mist is rising through 
which lights look red and large as they 
are kindled one by one in cottage win- 






52 LADY LAURA. 

dows. Lights are kindling too in the 
windows of the castle ; for though it 
stands midway up the slope of the 
eastern hill, where the daylight lingers 
latest and the evening glory seems most 
unwilling to part from the beech-woods, 
darkness is rapidly gaining ground with- 
in. For the windows of the castle are 
narrow and deep set in the walls, and 
they let in the sunlight grudgingly, 
giving it later admission and earlier ex- 
clusion than it finds in houses of more 
modern construction. It is so dark in 
the gallery upstairs, that two children 
who have been playing at battledore 
there the greater part of the afternoon, 
are compelled to stop their game, and 
console themselves with an animated 
dispute as to whose fault it is that the 
shuttlecock has fallen so soon, it being 
more satisfying to their combative in- 
stincts to fasten the blame on one 



LADY LAURA. 53 

another than upon such an impersonal 
chcumstance as the darkness. A door 
opens, and a lady comes along the pas- 
sage : the children cease disputing, and 
run up to her to tell her how many times 
they have kept the shuttlecock going. 

^ Forty-nine times, mamma, and then 
it only fell because Kachel would hit 
too high.' 

^ You sent it too low,' retorts Kachel 
indignantly. 

* I don't see how you could expect to 
keep it up any longer in the dark,' their 
mother says in a clear strong voice 
that admits of no question. ^ Come 
down with me to the library now ; it is 
just five, and Aunt Laura will be coming 
in and will make you some more paper- 
houses, I daresay. But you must be 
very quiet, mind, because grandpapa 
is not well to-day, and he does not Hke 
a noise.' 



54 LADY LAURA. 

The children take each a hand and trip 
along beside their mother, and, as they 
go, their voices sound pleasantly among 
the echoes of the old house — so pleasantly 
that I think we cannot do better than 
follow them. To the end of the gallery, 
down the stone staircase, across the hall, 
and through an arched doorway into the 
vaulted dining-room — out again through 
a small door at the other end, along a 
dozen yards or so of thickly carpeted 
passage at the end of which a heavy 
curtain hangs — that is the way the 
voices lead us. But at the curtain the 
voices are hushed, for before pushing it 
aside and opening the door behind it, 
the lady holds up her finger and says in 
the same clear tone in which we heard 
her speak in the gallery, — 

* Now remember, children, no noise, or 
you go straight up to the nursery.' 

Then, without waiting for a reply, she 



LADY LAURA. 55 

opens the door and passes into tlie oak- 
panelled sitting-room, the children follow- 
ing on tiptoe and in silence. 

Even in the dim twilight, which looks 
dimmer here than on the staircase and 
in the passage, you want no guide to tell 
you that the stately figure standing by 
the window is the original of the portrait 
of the lady in the green riding-habit. 
Indeed, I am not sure that the evening 
dimness is not rather favourable than 
otherwise to identification ; for it is 
more than thirty years since the picture 
was painted, and in a stronger light you 
would see that those years have wrought 
their changes, turning the brown hair 
white and chastening the brilliancy of 
the complexion and writing lines of care 
upon the brow. But these are just such 
changes as escape observation in the 
merciful dimness of the twilight hour, 
while the characteristic outlines of form 



56 LADY LAURA. 

and figure show like a finely cut marble 
against the dull crimson of the sky. 
Her form is still erect, and though the 
curves of her figure are perceptibly fuller 
than in the days of her marriage, they 
have gained majesty rather than lost 
grace, and Lady St. Asaph is a lordly 
woman still. 

It were a less easy task to discover in 
the dim face and nerveless form of the 
invalid, who is lying on the sofa, any 
fulfilment of the promise that we read 
in the portrait of her husband. Light 
and fire must have been long quenched 
in those lustreless eyes, and the once 
beautiful lines about the mouth have 
been in some strange way distorted and 
exaggerated till the old expression of 
tenderness and refined sensibility is lost 
in suggestions of an irritable temper and a 
captious taste. The sofa is littered with 
manuscript papers, and a small table be- 



LADY LAURA. 57 

side it is heaped with books and writing 
materials ; for the ruling passion per- 
sists, and after thirty years of barren 
effort Lord St. Asaph believes as firmly 
as in the days when he was the lion of 
drawing-rooms and the pet of critics 
that the poet's gift is his. That is his 
manuscript that Lady St. Asaph holds in 
her hand, and tries to decipher by the 
fading light; for not a line may stand 
without her approving judgment, and she 
often finds it a difficult task to satisfy 
at once her husband's exacting vanity 
and her own rigorous notions of truth- 
fulness. It is fortunate for her, she 
sometimes thinks, that she never pre- 
tended to much poetical insight, and is 
therefore able to make a safe retreat 
under the cover of admitted incom- 
petence from the effects of a depre- 
ciatory word. But this afternoon she 
has not been happy either in her first 



58 LADY LAURA. 

remarks or in lier after-thoughts of 
qualification, and it is with a sense of 
rehef that she sees her daughter and 
grandchildren come into the room. 
Their entrance is a signal to clear away 
the papers and ring for lights. 

' Is that Laura ? ' asks Lord St. Asaph, 
raising himself from his uneasy attitude 
and looking towards the door. As he 
speaks, something like a reflection of 
the bright glance of the picture seems 
to play upon his face ; but on seeing that 
it is not Laura, he sinks back again upon 
his cushions with an aggrieved look, and 
asks where Laura is. 

* She has gone to Cresford in the pony- 
carriage with Cassandra,' answers the 
lady of the clear voice, whom it is time 
I should present formally to the reader as 
Lady Sarah Tremadoc. ^ I should think 
she would be in soon, for it is a raw 
evening, not likely to tempt any one to 



LADY LAURA. 59 

stay out late. Do you want anything 
that I can do ? ' 

^ No — no — I want Laura. I have lost 
some papers, and I think she may be 
able to find them.' 

Lady Sarah knew better than to ofier 
her services again. Only two persons 
were ever allowed to help Lord St. Asaph 
in his literary labours — his wife, who, 
having set herself meekly to karn the 
lessons of life, had acquired a good deal 
more tact and tenderness than she once 
seemed capable of, and his youngest 
daughter, in whose gentle nature tact 
and tenderness were indigenous growths. 

It was no ordinary tenderness of 
handling that Lord St. Asaph's vale- 
tudinarian muse required. He was as 
quick to detect insincerity in praise, as 
to resent unfavourable criticism. And 
his elder daughters were wojnen of 
decided opinions, which they had a 



6o LADY LAURA. 

habit of expressing frankly. Besides, 
they were all married, and belonged there- 
fore to the unsympathetic outside world, 
and were likely to hear with its ears 
and judge with its judgment. Whereas 
Laura had not yet been introduced to 
society and had heard little intellectual 
conversation except her father's, so that 
her literary opinions, if she had any, 
might fairly be expected to be a re- 
flection of his own. 

Lady Sarah understood all this, and 
felt as little disposition to resent the 
refusal of her help as to combat it. She 
subsided into a chair by the fireside, and 
contented herself with humbly trying to 
imitate the absent Laura's paper-houses 
for the amusement of her children, who 
were as melancholy over their aunt's 
tarrying as their grandfather himself 
could be. He, meanwhile, returned 
gloomily to the task— which had been 



LADY LAURA. 6i 

canied on at intei-vals all the after - 
noon — of questioning his wife as to 
the possible whereabouts of the missing 
sheets. Lady St. Asaph had already- 
adduced many and strong reasons why 
they could not be in any paper-basket 
in the house, and she had more than 
once staked her faith in human trust- 
worthiness on the impossibility of any 
one of her housemaids having taken 
them to light a fire with; but till 
Laura should come in, or some other 
interest turn up to create a diversion, 
there seemed little chance of her argu- 
ments proving cogent. Nevertheless she 
went through them again patiently, with- 
out temper and apparently without 
weariness. 

Meanwhile a pony-camage drawn by a 
stout Welsh pony is coming at a brisk 
trot along the Cresford road; the little 
boy who sits behind has the air of 



62 LADY LAURA 

chastened self-complacency that belongs 
to the servants of the biggest people 
in a place, and labourers trudging home 
from their work look up and touch 
their caps to the two ladies in the 
front seat as they whisk past in the 
twilight. Suddenly the carriage stops 
on the brow of the hill just where the 
road breaks into a fork, and its occupants 
seem to be hesitating as to which way 
they shall go — whether they shall take 
the by-way that dips into the glen or 
keep along the main road that leads 
to the castle. While they are debating 
let us go nearer and get a better view 
of them. 

There is evidently the intimacy of 
blood-relationship between them, but 
they do not look like sisters. Indeed, 
at a first glance one is inclined to say 
that it would be impossible to find two 
women, both young, both handsome. 



LADY LAURA, 63 

both tall and dark, and both gifted with 
that mysterious well-born air which is 
independent of virtue, beauty, training, 
— may one not say sometimes even of 
birth itself? — who offer a more com- 
plete contrast than these two. And 
yet people who know them well often 
see likenesses between them — in the 
shape of the brow, in casual movements, 
in the inflexions and modulations of the 
voice. The difference lies chiefly in 
general tone and expression. One is all 
movement, brightness, animation : the 
other is very quiet, and speaks without 
gesture in a low voice. Though I have 
said that they are both young, there is 
a perceptible difference of age between 
them, one having the self-possessed 
manner and general air of being at 
home in the world that comes to few 
women much before thirty, and the other 
the shy, half-startled outlook that seldom 



64 LADY LAURA. 

lingers after twenty. The younger seems 
to be mistress of the pony-carriage, for 
she holds the reins, and the burden of 
decision as to which way they shall take 
evidently lies with her. She is, in fact, 
the much-desired Laura, and her com- 
panion is her cousin, Cassandra Gwynne. 
Cassandra is trying to persuade her to 
take the road down into the valley, 
and she seems unwilling to do so, and 
yet reluctant to refuse. She has a 
sensitive mouth that suggests that, 
through life, to say *No' vnll be a 
difficult task to her, though there are 
indications also of a power of saying it 
even at some cost when absolutely 
necessary. This, however, is not a 
critical moment in life, and the ques- 
tion to be decided is only whether she 
shall go straight home and then send 
the carriage back to the rectory with 
her cousin, or take her cousin home 



LADY LAURA. 65 

first and go in for a cup of tea and 
a chat with her aunt. It is the 
latter course that her cousin is urging 
upon her with a copiousness of argu- 
ment and eagerness of tone that seem 
rather out of proportion to the oc- 
casion. But Miss Gwynne is always 
ready with reasons, and has the advo- 
cate's faculty of warming to any cause 
she chooses to take up. 

^Yes, come in, or I shall be really 
hurt. It is a long time since you have 
been to see mamma, and you know she 
prays for your visits. You cannot be 
wanted so imperatively now that Sarah 
is at home. I declare, this notion that 
you are indispensable amounts to con- 
ceit.' 

This is a hit especially likely to tell, 
for Laura is the last person in the 
world to wish to seem more important 
than others. She wonders whether she 

VOL. I. 5 



66 LADY LAURA. 

is conceited, and answers in a very meek 
tone, — 

* I will come to-morrow.' 

^ But to-morrow will not be the same. 
I have set my heart on to-day. To-morrow 
may rain, to-morrow may never come, 
to-morrow you will have to make atone- 
ment for being late to-day ; for you 
know you are too late now to be in time. 
— Come.' 

^ I really think, if you did not mind 
coming round, I would rather go straight 
home.' 

' As for that, you may be quite sure I 
shall not let myself be driven up to the 
castle. If you won't come in with me, 
I shall get out and walk — so good-bye.' 

And Cassandra leapt lightly from the 
carriage, and stood holding out her hand 
to her cousin. 

' I don't like to let you walk down 
alone : it seems so ungracious.' 



LADY LAURA. 67 

'You know the alternative. Am I to 
get in again ? ' 

^ Yes, I suppose you must have your 
way as usual.' 

So Cassandra got in again with a 
triumphant smile, and they turned into 
the by-road. 

As her cousin had said, Cassandra 
generally got her own way — ^at least in 
the smaller things of life, which is per- 
haps as much as can be said for most 
women who are called successful, the 
larger things lying for the most part in 
regions where individual wills count for 
little. She prided herself on being able 
to persuade her friends and acquaint- 
ances to see with her eyes while she 
was with them, and she could count 
pretty confidently on getting the lead 
in any undertaking of a practical kind 
that she chose to throw herself into. 
But she had long ceased to flatter 



68 LADY LAURA. 

herself that she could materially modify 
her own hfe and character — much less 
those of her neighbours. Nevertheless 
she strove earnestly after her passing 
triumphs, and got a good deal of en- 
joyment out of the general recogni- 
tion of her ascendency, as a reasonable 
child goes on thinking gas-lamps pretty 
for some time after it has learned that 
they are not moons. 

To-day's success was, however, incom- 
plete as yet. To persuade her cousin to 
drive her home and come in to tea was 
only a preliminary step towards asking a 
more important favour. And as soon as 
the carriage was in motion again, and the 
sound of the wheels made their voices 
inaudible to the boy behind, she began 
to explain the motive that lay behind her 
earnestness. 

^I believe you are thinking me very 
absurd and unreasonable to have made 



LADY LAURA. 69 

such a fuss about taking you home with 
me. And indeed I should not have gone 
on persuading you if I had not had a 
very special reason for wishing you to 
come in to the rectory to-night. The 
fact is, I want you to tell mamma about 
Egmont and Maurice Heme.' 

^ But why should you not tell her 
yom'self ? ' asked Laura, in very natural 
surprise — for Egmont was her brother, 
and Maurice Heme was Mrs. Grwynne's 
nephew and consequently Cassandra's 
cousin; and the news about them was 
that Egmont, who had gone to Switzer- 
land during the summer vacation, had 
fallen down and sprained his ankle, 
and that Heme, happening to be with 
him at the time, had been kind and 
helpful to him, that the two had become 
great friends, and that Egmont was going 
to bring Heme home with him in the 
course of a few days. These facts the 



JO LADY LAURA. 

cousins had just learned out of a letter 
from Egmont which Laura had found 
waiting for her at the Cresford post-office, 
and it was greatly on account of this 
letter that Laura had been so anxious to 
go straight home and so slow to see the 
merits of Cassandra's arrangement that 
the letters should be sent up in the 
carriage while she was having tea at the 
rectory. She felt mystified by her 
cousin's explanation, and wished now 
that she had not been the one to give in. 
^ Why can you not tell her yourself ? ' 
she asked. 

^ That is a very natural question,' re- 
turned Cassandra with a smile that was 
half-frank and half-mysterious ; * and it is 
just what I am going to explain. The 
truth is that Maurice Heme is rather 
a sore subject at home, as I think you 
cannot but know.' 

*No, I did not know it,' said Laura, 



LADY LAURA. 7i 

with a look of distress. ' I thought Aunt 
Ellen would be glad to hear that he was 
coming. Has he done anything wrong ? ' 
* Oh, dear,' said Cassandra in the 
patronizing tone with which people con- 
sole themselves for being ten years older 
than other people. ^I am always for- 
getting how young you are. Of course 
you were a mere child when it all hap- 
pened. You must know then that years 
and years ago, when you were quite a 
small child and I had just come home 
from school, my brother Gerard was sent 
to Oxford on the understanding that he 
was to be a good boy, and study divinity, 
and eventually take orders, and still 

more eventually have ' Cassandra 

was going to say, have the living of 
Nant-y-Gwyn; but it struck her that 
her cousin would probably be shocked 
to hear her speak in so light a tone 
of an event which involved the death 



72 LADY LAURA. 

of her own father, and she stopped 
in time, saying adroitly, ^ Oh, dear me, 
I have not begun far enough back 
now; I ought to have told you that 
in times still more remote, when you 
were not yet born, and I was away 
at school, the Hemes used to live at 
Cresford, and Maurice, who was then a 
good little boy, was being educated at the 
Grammar School. And he really was a 
very good little boy, and did his lessons so 
well that he ended by getting all sorts of 
scholarships and going up to Oxford with 
flying colours. Well, in those days he 
was a great favourite at the rectory. He 
used often to come over on haK-holidays, 
and spend the afternoon roaming about 
the park with me ... it was at the 
time when the castle was shut up, and 
the grounds seemed part of the rec- 
tory garden. Well, Maurice was a 
great favourite with my father, and my 



LADY LAURA. 73 

mother was very proud of him — and I 
beheve they both had an idea ' 

* What idea ? ' asked Laura, as her 
cousin paused. 

' Perhaps, as at best it was only an 
idea and as I have no authority for say- 
ing it was even so much as that, it will 
be better to say nothing at all about it ; 
but to go on with the thread of my 
narrative, as the historians say. Let me 
see, where was I ? Maurice had gone up 
to Oxford with flying colours, and Gerard 
was still at Eton. Well, of course 
Maurice did well at Oxford. He got a 
fii'st class, and became a fellow of his 
college. And he made up his mind to 
go in for a regular college career. And 
when Gerard's time came for going to 
Oxford, he was specially confided to 
Maurice, and it was understood that 
Maurice was to make an excellent clergy- 
man of him. But somehow everything 



74 LADY LAURA. 

went wrong. Gerard got dissipated and 
extravagant, and there was endless dis- 
cussion about him at home — papa always 
blaming Maurice, and mamma crying all 
day and saying that the worst of it was 
one did not know whom to blame. And 
every now and then Maurice used to 
write and advise that Gerard should be 
taken away from Oxford and put into 
some merchant's office or other practical 
thing — at which papa used to go about 
looking as much disgraced as if all the 
Gwynnes had been transported for for- 
gery. And altogether our house was as 
miserable as if we had had a funeral 
every other day and a wedding in be- 
tween. At last it ended in Gerard's 
being sent away from his college for some 
not very creditable row he got mixed up 
in, and then Maurice came down and 
talked a great deal to my father. And 
it came out that all the while that the 



LADY LAURA. 75 

home people were expecting him to make 
a good clergyman of Gerard, he himself 
had drifted into atheistical opinions, on 
accomit of which he had made up his 
mind to resign his fellowship and his 
work as college tutor. And then my 
father, who was glad to blame anybody 
rather than Gerard himself, was more 
satisfied than ever that everything had 
been Maurice's fault, and there was a 
tremendous flare-up, since which Maurice 
has never been inside the rectory-gates.' 

^ Was it then that Gerard went out 
to Australia ? ' said Lam-a, making no 
comment on the narrative. 

^Yes, and that was Maurice's doing, 
and I beheve it has been the salvation 
of Gerard.' 

^ Does Uncle Harvey think so too ? ' 

^ I really think he does. And that 
makes me hope that perhaps this visit 
may bring about a reconciliation. Only 



76 LADY LAURA. 

one never knows how people will take 
things, and I confess I have not courage 
to stand up in the home circle and 
mention that he is coming.' 

' But it is not in any way your doing ; 
nobody could blame you.' 

* That is true certainly, but I feel 
that this piece of news will probably 
be the beginning of a great deal that 
will be disagreeable. And though I can 
bear myself bravely in battle when once 
I am in the thick of it, I am a coward 
about firing the first shot.' 

Cassandra's manner of speaking was 
disagreeable to Laura, and she did not 
answer for a few minutes. By-and-by 
she said, — 

' After what you have told me, it 
seems to me very natural that Uncle 
Harvey and Aunt Ellen should dislike 
Mr. Heme's coming to stay with us. 
Would it not perhaps be better if he 



LADY LAURA. 77 

did not come at all? Mamma would 
write to Egmont and explain.' 

'■ That would not be fair,' said Cas- 
sandra decidedly. ^Because my father 
has taken a prejudice against Maurice, 
we ought not to pretend to interfere 
between him and his friends. Besides, 
I think his coming here may really do 
good — perhaps bring about an entire 
reconciliation, and it would be a thou- 
sand pities to prevent such an end as 
that.' 

Laura was silent. The whole story 
affected her painfully in many ways that 
Cassandra did not guess. It was the 
first hint she had received that the 
rectory was not a very harmonious 
home, and she was young enough to 
be surprised as well as pained at reve- 
lations of domestic discord. Then she 
did not like Cassandra's manner of 
speaking about her father and mother, 



78 LADY LAURA. 

and that too was new to her, for Cas- 
sandra was not wont to be flippant — at 
least not in Ute-a-Ute with Laura; and 
more than all it distressed her to hear 
that this new friend of her brother's was 
a person of atheistical opinions. Half-an- 
hour ago she had been thinking plea- 
santly of Mr. Heme as her brother's 
friend, and preparing to welcome him 
cordially to the castle. Nay, he had even 
been a sort of hero ; for Egmont had 
written quite enthusiastically about him, 
saying that but for him the fall would have 
been a very serious one — fatal perhaps — 
and that he considered that Heme had 
really saved his life ; at which Cassandra 
had laughed a little, and said it was just 
like Egmont, who was always making 
mountains out of mole-hills. But Laura, 
whose weak point was her youngest 
brother, had straightway crowned his 
benefactor with laurels and invested him 



LADY LAURA. 79 

with every lovable quality. And now her 
cousin said he was an atheist ! That 
was the point that struck her most in 
the narrative. She had always heard 
atheists talked of as beings capable of 
any and every crime, and she had 
thought of them with the sort of distant 
horror that respectable people have of 
murderers and housebreakers. She had 
prayed for them in church, together 
with Jews and Turks, but as yet no 
individual of the species had come within 
her personal knowledge, unless I ought 
to except Will Heasman, the consump- 
tive cobbler who lived like an outcast 
at the far end of the village, banned by 
all the respectable inhabitants, and de- 
pending for sustenance on the employ- 
ment of those villagers whose poverty 
made religious intolerance an impossible 
luxury while Will charged half the price 
of his church-going rival in the valley. 



8o LADY LAURA. 

Will was a peaceable fellow enough for 
the greater part of the year when he 
lived a sort of hermit life, but he was 
given to periodical drinking bouts which 
lasted till all the earnings of his sober 
days had been spent, when he returned 
to sobriety and industry and with the 
help of the pawnbroker gradually re- 
covered a condition of relative respec- 
tability. Laura had once or twice seen 
this man, and his appearance had haunted 
her. He looked so ill, so wretched, so 
God-forsaken and outcast, that her heart 
had gone out towards him compas- 
sionately, and she had thought that if 
she had been a man or a much older 
woman she would have found means to 
reach him with her sympathy. 

But the pity she gave to atheism out- 
cast and in rags could not be extended 
to atheism that wore good clothes and 
moved in good society, and she made up 



LADY LAURA. 8i 

her mind that she should dishke Mr. 
Heme very much and would do her best 
to withdraw her brother from his in- 
fluence. At any other time she would 
without hesitation have told Cassandra 
all that she was feeling, for her cousin 
had been her confidante for years, and 
Laura had never yet found her wanting 
in sympathy. But Cassandra's manner 
of telling her story had put a gulf be- 
tween them which Laura had not 
courage to cross. She tried to ask a 
question, but her voice was tremulous 
with tears, and she remained silent in 
order not to betray herself. 

They were down in the valley and had 
just come to the point where the road 
is crossed by the stream, and she found 
the task of urging the pony through 
the water a welcome help in recover- 
ing herself; as they came out on 
the other side she was able to com- 

VOL. I. 6 



82 LADY LAURA. 

mand her voice and speak without 
tremulousness. 

^ Do you mean that Mr. Heme is really 
an atheist now ? ' she asked, rather 
timidly. 

* Atheist is an ugly word,' said Cas- 
sandra, ^but I don't fancy Maurice can 
have much belief left. When once a 
man starts in that direction, he generally 
goes on.' 

' It seems very sad,' said Laura, with a 
sigh ; * one realises it in quite a new way 
when one hears it of a — a — friend of some 
one who is very dear to one. I can't 
help wishing Egmont had not met him.' 
Then, remembering the cousinship with 
the rectory people, she added apologeti- 
cally, ^ I beg your pardon, I had forgotten 
for a moment that he was your cousin. 
But Egmont is so easily influenced, 

and ' she hesitated, checked by the 

lightness of her cousin's manner, and yet 



LADY LAURA. 83 

urged on by her own sense of the gravity 
of the matter. ' Don't you think, Cas- 
sandra, that it is very sad that people 
should be ... . atheists ? ' 

Laura felt the word so ugly that she 
had difficulty in bringing herself to say 
it a second time. 

* My dear Laura,' answered Cassandra, 
still speaking in the artificial tone that 
was so disagreeable to her cousin, ^ it is 
just one of those things one has to make 
up one's mind to as one grows older and 
sees the world more as it really is. Un- 
belief is so common among men — espe- 
cially thinking men — now-a-days, that if 
one made it a ground of excommunica- 
tion, one would be banning with bell, 
book, and candle every other man one 
met in London society.' 

* Do you mean that it is really so 
common as that ? ' 

' Well^ perhaps I have exaggerated a 



84 LADY LAURA. 

little. Bnt it is common, and becomes 
more so every day. And it is not fair to 
shut one's eyes to tlie fact, however much 
one may dislike it, that some of the 
best minds and noblest hearts of the day 
are among the unbelievers. I am sorry 
to give you pain, but these are matters 
in which one ought to be honest and un- 
compromising — that is, as far as one can.' 
Here Cassandra hesitated a moment. 
Then she went on. ^ There is prejudice 
enough against Maurice Heme already, 
and you ought not to take it into your 
head that he is a sort of Will Heasman, 
merely because he does not believe in 
the things you have been brought up 
to consider true. He is an honourable 
man, very much in earnest, and full of 
generous good feeling; and that is much. 
In spite of all that has happened, I 
have always felt thankful that Gerard 
should have come under his influence, 



LADY LAURA. 85 

and I can assure you that you need not 
fear his friendship for Egmont.' 

Cassandra's tone had quite changed 
now — she spoke lower, almost \\dth a 
tremor in her voice, and though the 
matter of her speech was not comforting 
to Laura, the manner was. It was with 
pleasanter feelings that Laura waited for 
her to speak again. 

She had not to wait long, for they were 
just at the gate, and while the boy was 
going up the garden path to ring the 
bell, Cassandra took the opportunity of 
saying,— 

* You see, I cannot help getting rather 
warm on this subject. Maurice and I 
were very good friends in the old days, 
and I have always been suspected of a 
little secret partisanhip. That is why I 
want you to tell the news, and you can- 
not think how grateful I am to you for 
being an amiable child.' 



86 LADY LAURA. 

To Laura's surprise, she ended her 
speech by leaning forward and giving her 
a sudden kiss. Then in a moment she 
had jumped from the carriage and taken 
the reins into one hand, while with the 
other she helped the bewildered Laura to 
alight. Another minute, and they were 
in the snug rectory drawing-room, and 
Mrs. Gwynne was stripping Laura of her 
wraps. 

You would never have taken Mrs. 
Gwynne for Cassandra's mother. She 
was a small, insignificant woman, with a 
bad figure on which the richest stuffs 
hung poorly, and thin colourless hair 
which she trained over her wide forehead 
with a care that deserved better success. 
That forehead was the one remarkable 
feature about her, the only thing that 
saved her from utter insignificance, but 
it could not be said to be beautiful, though 
it gave to her countenance an expression 



LADY LAURA. 87 

of large-hearted sympathy which atoned 
in some eyes for the want of beauty. 
People seeing Mrs. Gwynne for the 
first time always said it was a pity that 
her forehead was not smaller ; and yet 
it was the reproduction of that forehead 
in Cassandra that made her face so 
much pleasanter to look upon than that 
of her father, of which in every other 
respect it was an excellent likeness. 
Her great height she owed to him, as 
also her aquihne nose and finely formed 
mouth and richly glowing complexion. 
But the father's forehead was narrow and 
receding, which gave an unsympathetic 
character to his countenance ; his smiles 
were thin and the curves of his lips and 
nostrils were more accustomed to express 
contempt than kindliness. Clearly it 
was not from him that Cassandra got the 
genial light and the flashes of intelligent 
sympathy that came and went in her 



88 LADY LAURA. 

face as she spoke, and gave it a charm 
that made its mere physical beauty seem 
of no importance. These came from Mrs. 
Gwynne, with the wide open forehead 
that looked merely big and bald above 
the mother's insignificant nose aad eyes, 
but became a feature of chief beauty in 
the daughter's face. 

Cassandra was only speaking the truth 
when she said that her mother would 
rejoice in a visit from Laura. She was 
a great pet with her aunt, and when she 
came in for a chat Mrs. Gwynne felt 
herself a less insignificant person than at 
other times. For, her own daughters not 
excepted, Laura was the only woman of 
her husband's family of whom she was 
not afraid. I am the first to admit that 
it was a sign of weakness on the good 
little lady's part, but though I am very 
fond of her, I cannot disguise the fact 
that, after being the Honourable Mrs. 



LADY LAURA. 89 

HaiTey Gwynne for more than thii'ty 
yeai-s, she still caiiied about ^ith her a 
paralysing recollection of a time when 
she was only Miss Eayner, daughter to 
the Cresford banker, and belle of Cresford 
ball-rooms— yes, belle, reader; the word 
is wiitten advisedly though you may take 
it for a slip of the pen. Long ago that 
colourless hak was touched with gold, 
and that di'ab complexion was pretty pink 
and white ; and the Cresford dandies vied 
with one another for Ellen Eayner's 
favours, and the Cresford giiis wished 
they could heap up theu' ciuis as skilfully 
as she did. In those days the Hon- 
ourable and Eeverend Harvey Gwynne 
was a young man just entering upon 
the duties of the family living, glad 
to profit by the sort of social am- 
phibiousness that has always belonged 
to the ecclesiastical state, and accept 
friendly invitations fi'om the Cresford 



90 LADY LAURA. 

townsfolk. So he had met the pretty 
banker's daughter, and, having inadver- 
tently fallen in love with her, had married 
her and lifted her into the upper regions 
of Cheshire society, where she had ever 
since been trying vainly to feel herself at 
home. Perhaps if she had been tall, and 
had had a fine figure, she might have 
succeeded in acquiring an easy manner 
among her new connexions. Perhaps, 
on the other hand, the task might 
have been less difficult had these been of 
a less magnificent type ; and when I 
think of the little lady's happiness in 
the company of the gentle Laura, I 
cannot resist a movement of indignation 
against the splendid outlines and sound- 
ing voices of the other women of the 
family. Laura was as tall as any of her 
sisters, and yet people habitually spoke 
of her as a little woman. Her height did 
not assert itself as theirs did — possibly 



LADY LAURA. 91 

because she had very small hands and 
feet, and because she did her hair very 
simply at a time when fashion prescribed 
a labyrinth of plaits behind and before. 
Then her dress was always simple and 
girlish; and her voice, though it would 
sometimes take the trumpet-notes that be- 
longed to the family, was more often soft 
and low. Altogether she was a very unas- 
suming person, of whom it would have 
been difficult for anybody to be afraid. 

So Mrs. Gwynne was thinking, as she 
sat in the firelight with her hands folded 
calmly before her, and her faded eyes 
fastened in loving contemplation on the 
bright young face that was turned towards 
hers. 

Laura was telling how people were at 
the castle, and inquiring about healths 
at the rectory. At another time her first 
news would have been about Egmont, 
but the conversation in the carriage had 



92 LADY LAURA, 

surrounded that topic with embarrass- 
ment, and she waited to speak of it till 
her aunt should ask a question. The 
question was sure to cctne before long, 
for Mrs. Gwynne had an orderly, con- 
scientious mind that never forgot to ask 
after the absent or to show the right 
attention to the present. 

^ Have you heard from your brother 
lately ? ' 

Such a simple question, and one 
that Laura had been expecting every 
minute ! And yet when it came, she 
blushed violently, and felt guilty of a 
thousand treacheries. Fortunately she 
was sitting on a low stool with her back 
towards the fire, and the shaded lamp at 
the other end of the room, by which her 
uncle was reading and her cousin Anna 
working, did not send its light far 
enough to betray her confusion. No 
one saw her blush except the observant 



LADY LAURA. 93 

Cassandra, and no one noticed anything 
unusual in her tone as she said, — 

'Yes, we found letters from him at 
Cresford this afternoon. He is coming 
home sooner than he intended, on account 
of a troublesome accident.' 

'Dear, dear, I am sony to hear that,' 
said Mrs. Gwynne in a voice full of 
solicitude. 

' Yes, it is very unfortunate ; he has 
sprained his ankle, and been laid up 
with it for a fortnight — all the time 
we thought he was enjoying himself. 
However, I suppose we ought to be 
thankful that it is not more serious.' 

' But a sprain is serious,' said Mrs. 
Gwynne ; ' I am sure your dear mother 
will think so. Has he had good medical 
attendance ? ' 

' He says he has been very lucky in 
his doctor .... and fortunately he has 
had a friend with him, who has taken 



94 LADY LAURA. 

great care of him — a Mr. Heme — 
you know him I think — at least, I 
mean, he is your nephew. . . .' 

* Maurice Heme i Is lie with your 
brother ? ' 

There was an anxious note in Mrs. 
Gwynne's voice as she asked this ques- 
tion, and a more than usual timidity 
in her glance as it sought her hus- 
band's face to ascertain whether he 
had heard Laura's news. He was still 
reading, and though Laura's words had 
fallen upon his ears, they had not pene- 
trated to his mind; but his wife's look 
awakened his attention before the last 
vibration had died away, and he roused 
himself with sudden energy, laying aside 
his book and saying dryly, ^ Heme, did 
you say ? — what of him ? ' 

^ Laura is telling us that Egmont has 
fallen in with him in Switzerland, and 
that he has been very kind to him.' 



LADY LAURA, 95 

* Who has been kind to whom ? ' 
inquired the Eector. 'Youi' pronouns 
are rather confused, my dear.' Mr. 
Gwynne said ^ my dear ' in a key that 
was argumentative rather than affec- 
tionate. But Mrs. Gwynne answered 
in the same tone of impartial narrative 
in which she had first spoken, — 

* Maurice Heme has been kind to 
Egmont.' 

' Oh, has he ? well I'm glad to hear 
some good of him. Where did you say 
they met ? ' 

* At Interlachen,' said Laura ; * and 
Egmont says that Mr. Heme has been 
so wonderfully kind to him, nursing 
him like a woman.' 

* Nursing ? — why did he want nursing ? ' 
Laura explained. *He had an acci- 
dent which would probably have been 
very serious but for Mr. Heme. I can't 
quite follow all the description, but it 



96 LADY LAURA. 

seems that they were making some very- 
dangerous ascent, and Egmont's foot 
slipped, and if Mr. Heme had not 
caught him just in time, he says he 
must have fallen right down a precipice 
and been dashed to pieces.' 

Mr. Gwynne had already returned to 
his book and no one volunteered another 
remark. So Laura, who had been getting 
more uncomfortable every minute, rose 
from the fender stool, and said abruptly 
that she had heard the pony-carriage 
come back some minutes ago, and she 
must not stay any longer. She said 
hurried good-byes, and went out. 

Cassandra went with her to the gate, 
and congratulated her on the tact with 
which she had told the great news. ^ You 
did it most diplomatically,' she said. 

^ Did I ? ' answered Laura in a weary 
tone. ^ I felt a great humbug all the 
while. — Good-night, Cassandra.' 



LADY LAURA. 97 

There was a sad expression in Laura's 
face as she put it up to kiss her cousin, 
and Cassandra felt conscience-stricken. 

'Don't look at me Kke that, dear; I 
am not doing anything wrong. It is not 
my fault. . . .' 

* No, but it makes me unhappy. I 
feel ' 

' What ? ' 

' I don't know. Good-night.' And she 
drove away into the darkness. 



VOL. I. 




CHAPTEE III. 

In truth a very worthy gentleman, exceedingly 
well-read.' 

'HE news that Egmont was going 
to bring Maurice Heme home 
with him was very naturally 
received with less concern at the castle 
than at the rectory. 

For Lady St. Asaph, all the interest of 
her son's letter lay in the account of the 
accident and the details about the 
sprained ankle ; while Lord St. Asaph, 
whose nervousness habitually took, among 
countless other forms, that of a morbid un- 
easiness about any member of his family 
who happened at the moment to be away 



LADY LAURA. 



99 



from Ardgwen, was disposed to look upon 
any event that brought Egmont home 
before his term as rather a happy dis- 
pensation, and to take a favourable view 
of every circumstance connected with it. 
Lady Sarah felt a prospective exhilaration 
in the opportunities for discussion which 
would be afforded by the presence in the 
house of a young man of advanced 
opinions, and Mr. Tremadoc was pas- 
sively indifferent. He never expected to 
like new people, but he had a talent for 
ignoring any person who happened to be 
distasteful to him, and was never known 
to speak bitterly about anybody except 
now and then some too loquacious lady 
whom he had been condemned to take 
in to dinner. Heme could not be forced 
upon him in this manner, and under any 
other circumstances he was equal to dis- 
regarding him. 

The only member of the family who 



loo LADY LAURA. 

was at all put out by the threatened visit 
was Lord Ehoos. He had forgotten all 
about Heme, and on hearing that Egmont 
was going to bring him to Ardgwen he 
inquired who he was. 

* Surely you must remember him,' 
answered Lady Sarah; ^Aunt Ellen's 
nephew, who used to be continually at the 
rectory till he got into hot water with 
them about poor Gerard's misdoings.' 

^ That fellow ! ' said Lord Ehoos in a 
tone of exquisite disgust. ^ Oh, but 
good heavens ! this is something dread- 
ful ! I remember him, of course. The 
disappointing man, who was to have done 
great things, and didn't do them after 
all — an earnest radical with a passion for 
reforming the world. But what in the 
world can Egmont mean to do with the 
fellow? He must be twice his age to 
begin with. It is really the most ridicu- 
lous thing I ever heard of. I thought 



LADY LAURA. loi 

Egmont was wholly given up to horses 
and dogs — a true British savage.' 

For Lord Ehoos, the dictionary con- 
tained no stronger word of condemnation 
than British. The only point in which 
he resembled his father was in a dislike 
to his own country ; he spent almost all 
his time abroad, and was imbued with 
Continental tastes and a contempt for 
English ways of life. He divided his 
countrymen into savages and parsons. 
Egmont had hitherto come in the first 
category — Heme, as a thinking man, 
belonged to the second. Lord Ehoos 
himself was neither a sportsman nor a 
man of opinions, but simply a man of 
the world who enjoyed society none the 
less because he found every other person 
he met in it a bore — for he went into 
society chiefly that he might have an 
opportunity of inveighing against its 
tedium and its folly. 



102 LADY LAURA. 

^ It is without exception the most 
ridiculous thing I have ever heard,' he 
repeated, not wishing to let the matter 
drop just yet. Whenever he got hold of 
a subject he went on at it for a consider- 
able time, turning it round and round — 
worrying it as a dog does a bone. * The 
most ridiculous thing. — Does anybody 
know this Heme ? ' 

' We used all to know him,' said Lady 
St. Asaph, ' and I think we all liked 
him. But it is years and years since 
he was here.' 

^ I'm glad he's coming,' said Lord St. 
Asaph. ^ I've no sort of sympathy with 
his political notions, but for all that, I 
must say I think my brother Harvey 
behaved most unreasonably to him. He 
was no more to blame for Gerard's dis- 
grace than I was. I'm glad he is coming ; 
it will give him a chance of setting him- 
self right with the rectory people.' 



LADY LAURA. 103 

^But what has he been doing since 
they turned the cold shoulder on him ? 
Has any one seen him since ? ' asked 
Ehoos. 

^ 1 have met him occasionally in Lon- 
don/ said Lady Sarah. ^ He is rather a 
pet of Eachel's — he is active in some 
philanthropic society to which she be- 
longs.' 

This piece of information was an occa- 
sion of renewed horror to Lord Ehoos. 
^ An active member of a philanthropic 
society ! Good heavens ! — this is worse 
and worse.' Then more resignedly, * I 
need not ask whether he's a tremendous 
bore, because Eachel's pets invariably are.' 

' I thought him pleasant,' said Lady 
Sarah, dauntlessly, ' and so did Edward. 
Did you not ? ' she said, turning to her 
husband. 

Mr. Tremadoc's memory was languid, 
and would not all at once be roused into 



I04 LADY LAURA. 

activity. ' I am afraid my recollection 
of him is indistinct,' he said, in a delibe- 
rate see -saw tone that promised impar- 
tiality if not decision. ^ One meets so 
many heroes at Eachel's parties, that 
unless one carries a note-book in one's 
pocket and records their names and 
specialities on the spot, one has no 
chance of remembering which is which.' 

' Oh, but you cannot have forgotten 
Mr. Heme. He is not in the least a 
hero, and you certainly told me you liked 
him. He was the tall, loosely made man, 
with the pleasant, expressive eyes, who 
talked to you half the evening last time 
we were in Arlington Street, about the 
social destination of poetry, or somethiug 
of that kind.' 

* The social destination of poetry,' said 
Lord Khoos, with a slow, chuckling 
accent on every syllable, ^ the social 
destination of poetry. Do you mean to 



LADY LAURA. 105 

say, Tremadoc, that you let this fellow 
talk to you for half an evening about the 
social destination of poetry, and then 
came away and forgot all about him ? 
I don't think I am particularly given 
to making much of my merits, but I 
declare if I had ever submitted to such 
a mortification of the flesh as that, I 
should have remembered it all my days 
as a title to salvation. The social 
destination of poetry! — what does it 
mean I should Hke to know.' 

* As likely as not to Hght the kitchen 
fire,' said Lord St. Asaph, with a sorrow- 
ful sneer. His mind had reverted to 
the missing manuscript. 

Meanwhile Mr. Tremadoc 's memory 
was reviving. * I begin to remember 
him,' he said. ' But as for the social 
destination of poetry, I don't remember 
anybody's talking of that except Eachel 
herself. It was her text that evening. 



io6 LADY LAURA. 

and if I remember rightly your friend and 
I agreed that she was talking rather 
wilder nonsense than usual. . . . Yes, I 
remember Heme, — a pleasant sort of 
man, with a good deal of originality. 
He knew all about this part of the 
world, and had an admiration for 
Cassandra's singing.' 

' Oh ! ' cried Ehoos, ^ if he admires 
Cassandra, the whole thing is explained. 
He comes here, of course, to lay siege 
to her.' 

^ I wish he loould marry her,' said 
Lady Sarah, warmly. ' There is no one 
I am more eager to see married than 
Cassandra. She is too vivid for an un- 
married woman, and, where she is, she is 
altogether an anomaly. But she would 
be splendid as the mistress of a house. 
She is a woman who really wants some- 
thing to do, and I am in daily terror 
lest she should throw herself into a 



LADY LAURA. 107 

cause, which would be a thousand pities, 
for it is not her sphere — she was made 
for society.' 

^ There is nothing I dislike so much,' 
said Lady St. Asaph, speaking with some 
severity, ^ as to hear it said of a woman 
that she is out of place at home. It is 
the strongest condemnation you can pos- 
sibly pronounce upon her. For my part, 
I prefer Anna to Cassandra. She does 
her duty quietly without giving all the 
world to understand that she is too good 
for it ; and that, in my opinion, is what a 
woman should do.' 

Lady St. Asaph, it must be observed, 
was not speaking the exact truth in 
saying that she hked Anna Grwynne 
better than her more brilliant sister. 
She was unconsciously guilty of the kind 
of falsehood into which we most of us 
fall when we speak from our theories 
rather than from our practice. Admira- 



io8 LADY LAURA. 

tion of Anna was consistent with lier 
principles, but tier taste gave the pre- 
ference to Cassandra — as all present 
knew, though they allowed the contrary 
statement to pass unchallenged. The 
sphere of woman was a point on which 
Lady St. Asaph never suffered verbal 
contradiction. 

' Cassandra is a very remarkable 
woman,' said her son-in-law, ^but rather 
too 'prononcee for my taste. She takes 
my breath away with her ardour. I liate 
a woman with enthusiasms.' 

Mr. Tremadoc spoke with a vehemence 
that was not common with him, but an 
enthusiastic woman was his favourite 
aversion. 

^ H'm,' said Lord Ehoos, ^ in a general 
way I am inclined to agree with you. 
But Cassandra is an exception. She is 
a woman of genius and her enthusiasms 
are genuine. I respect Cassandra because 



LADV LAURA. 109 

I believe her to be capable of setting her 
own house on fire. Now most enthusiastic 
women keep themselves out of mischief 
and upset everybody else. But Cas- 
sandra is different. It would never 
surprise me to hear of her doing some- 
thing utterly wild and disastrous.' 

Lady Sarah hfted up her eyebrows in 
amused astonishment. ^ It is refreshing 
to hear you praising a woman. But I 
should never have suspected you of ad- 
miring Cassandra. Really, if I were not 
the most loyal of women and had not 
five minutes ago given my sympathies 
to the radical candidate, I should wish 
yon joy.' 

* My dear Sarah, for the most sensible 
of my sisters, — which, thanks to Tre- 
madoc, you certainly are, — you do rush to 
the most ridiculous conclusions ! Because 
I admire a volcano, is it reasonable to 
infer that I wish to build my house on 



;io LADY LAURA. 

one ? Cassandra and I suit one another 
like fire and vitriol. She makes me more 
morose than I am by nature, and I lash 
her enthusiasms to fury. The radical is 
the right man for her — her fervour will 
spend itself harmlessly in a sympathetic 
bosom. . . . But seriously, my dear 
mother, you are not really thinking of 
letting this man come into the house. 
He will make our lives a burden to us.' 

^ Certainly he must come,' said Lady 
St. Asaph. ^ He has been most kind to 
Egmont, and it would be not only un- 
gracious but ungrateful to put him off.' 

^ Ah, his surgical skill has infatuated 
you all. I wonder why it is that all 
women go mad about a man as soon 
as he begins to dabble in something 
outside his proper business. They all 
do — especially if he has got some cause 
over which they can get up a platonic 
friendship.' 



LADY LAURA. in 

*I am disappointed in you, Ehoos,' 
said Lady Sarah. * I was in hopes you 
had grown more tolerant — you were 
really quite civil to Eaehel's Italian 
patriots last season.' 

^ That is a different thing. No foreigner 
is capable of being such an unmitigated 
bore as an EngHshman is. A foreigner 
of any nation under the sun — French, 
Italian, PoHsh, German — yes, I declare 
even a German — has invariably some other 
idea of making himself agi'eeable than by 
expounding his opinions. Either he is a 
man of the world and has acquired tact, 
or he is a sort of baby and can do with- 
out it.' 

^A baby! My dear Ehoos, what do 
you mean ? ' 

* I mean that an enthusiastic foreigner 
is as often as not an infantine creature 
who eats sugar- plums in the intervals of 
advocating his cause, and so gives his 



112 LADY LAURA. 

fellow-creatures rest. But an English- 
man, as soon as he takes up a subject, 
becomes a sort of Methodist preacher, 
and bores your life out of you in season 
and out of season. I fancy it must have 
been different fifty or sixty years ago, 
when lions still had manes and a roar. 
But now they are domesticated and par- 
sonically dull. This Heme, for instance, 
is quite tame, of course, and never says 
anything shocking ? ' 

Lady Sarah laughed. '■ I certainly 
never heard him roar. But, as I told 
you just now, he is not a lion.' 

^ My recollection of him,' said Lord 
St. Asaph, ^is rather favourable than 
otherwise. He was gentleman-like and 
unpretending, and had a good deal of 
culture. I used to think there was rather 
unusual promise about him. I remember 
some articles of his in the Beformer which 
showed considerable ability. But I fancy 



LADY LAURA. 113 

he will never make much mark in the 
world, for want of money and position.' 

*As far as I remember Mr. Heme,' 
said Lady St. Asaph, ^he wanted back- 
bone even more than money and position.' 

' That almost reconciles me to him,' 
said Lord Khoos ; and then he subsided 
into an easy chair and a volume of 
Balzac, while Lord St. Asaph went on 
with his remarks. 

^A sympathetic, poetical nature,' he 
observed, ^is at great disadvantages in 
a practical age like this. I feel sorry for 
a man like Heme. He had just the gifts 
that the world appreciates least, and they 
have hung round his neck — hung round 
his neck. I am sorry for him. I shall 
be glad to see him here. When does 
Egmont say they are coming ? ' 

Lady St. Asaph gave the date from the 
letter, and the subject was allowed to 
drop. 

VOL I. 8 



114 LADY LAURA. 

That Lord St. Asaph should wish 
to see Heme at Ardgwen was felt to 
settle the question of his reception. For 
the people he was glad to see were 
so few that his family were always 
eager to welcome to the house any 
one on whose coming he looked with 
favour. 

Meanwhile Laura was driving sadly 
home. She had been very near to tears 
when she wished Cassandra good-night at 
the gate of the rectory garden, and I am 
afraid that the pink rims that Lady St. 
Asaph noticed round her eyes at dinner- 
time were not wholly due to the fog, on 
which she laid the blame. She felt 
thoroughly miserable, and yet she could 
not have said exactly what it was that 
made her unhappy. In truth, the causes 
of her depression were much mixed, and 
she was rather vaguely disturbed than 
definitely grieved. It seemed to her that 



LADY LAURA. 115 

all the pleasant surroundings of her life 
were suddenly overshadowed. Her cousin 
Cassandra, who had been hitherto her 
friend and idol, — confessor, counsellor, 
sympathizer, and oracle, — the being she 
most admired in the world, had suddenly 
revealed herself in a light that was not 
pleasant. For though she tried hard to do 
so, Laura could not hide from herself the 
fact that Cassandra's manner had jarred 
upon her this evening; she had spoken 
lightly, almost jestingly, of things the 
most solemn, she had been flippant at 
the expense of her parents, and she had 
trapped Laura herself into participation 
in a kind of conspiracy. Certainly there 
was nothing wicked in her going into the 
rectory and telling her aunt the news from 
Egmont, and it might all have happened 
quite naturally without pre-arrangement. 
But with pre-arrangement the visit to 
the rectory had become an uncomfort- 



ii6 LADY LAURA. 

able fact in her consciousness. Another 
uncomfortable fact was her awakening 
to a sense of the difficulties in Cassandra's 
home. And yet more uncomfortable was 
the thought of this stranger who was the 
beginning of all the trouble. What but 
discomfort could he bring with him — a 
man who had already made unhappiness 
at the rectory, whose very name seemed 
to act as a talisman of evil on those who 
mentioned it ? * He will come between 
Egmont and me/ thought Laura, ^ and 
all our pleasant times together will be at 
an end.' 

Yes, that was the thought of crown- 
ing sadness. Her brother's affection 
would be stolen away from her, and the 
phrase, ^ Egmont and Laura,' would no 
longer be an expression for the happiest 
of partnerships in brotherly and sisterly 
confidences. And they had always been 
such friends. The long gap between 



LADY LAURA. 117 

these two and the elder son and daughters 
had made them, in a manner, a separate 
family. They had heen in the nm'sery 
together when the others had passed into 
the schoolroom : they had heen ' the chil-. 
dren ' when the others were grown or 
growing up. Nay, they were ^ the chil- 
dren ' still in everybody's estimation but 
their own and each other's. Before 
Egmont could speak plainly he had had 
fine airs of protection and patronage for 
Laura, and Laura in all her life to come 
would perhaps never again be so proud 
as she had been in knowing herself the 
confidante of Egmont's boyish scrapes. 
The two had had so many secrets together 
— elaborate harmless secrets of childhood, 
that elders could not guess because they 
had so little in them — mysterious plot- 
tings that never came to apparent issue, 
stealthy conspiracies to do what no law 
forbade. Their very quarrels had been 



ii8 LADY LAURA. 

of the nature of confidences, for when 
one was angry with the other, the 
grievance was never confided to a third 
person, but borne in secret till mutual 
dependence somehow brought about a 
reconciliation; but if either had ground 
of discontent with any other member 
of the family, then the two would enter 
into a strict alliance of resentment. The 
simple relations of childish days had 
gradually shifted their ground as they 
grew towards womanhood and manhood, 
but the two loved one another as fondly 
now as ever, and still considered that 
they were brother and sister in a sense 
special to themselves. When Egmont 
was away, it was for Laura that he 
picked up knick-knacks, confident of 
pleasing her taste; and when he made 
a new friend, it was to Laura that he 
always said, 'I am sure you will like 
him.' And now he had made a friend 



LADY LAURA. 119 

whom she was sure she would not like, 
and she felt that a new and sadder chap- 
ter of her life was beginning. 
No wonder her heart was heavy. 





CHAPTEE IV. 

Would you console her? — Then tell her she's 
much needed.' 

HEEE is nothing so pleasant as 
to find oneself impatiently looked 
for when one comes in on a raw 
evening with dismal thoughts in one's 
mind — nothing so magical as the instan- 
taneous passage from depression to exulta- 
tion as one stands in the warm fire-glow 
and hears in the affectionate reproach of 
the home-voices how much one has heen 
wanted ! 

Neither warm flre-glow nor chiding 
welcome was wanting to dispel the vague 
melancholy that, like the ghost of a 



LADY LAURA. 121 

troubled past, had accompanied Laura on 
her homeward drive. The door was 
already open when she drove up to it, 
and the ruddy light of the wood-fire 
that burned in the hall streamed out 
upon the road. For the sound of her 
wheels had heralded her, and a watchful 
servant was waiting on the doorstep with 
a message from her father, bidding her 
go to his room immediately. 

* It was about some papers,' the man 
explained, — ' some sheets of manuscript 
that could not be found.' 

' Oh dear, had they been missed ? ' 
Laura had them herself in course of copy- 
ing, and she hurried across the hall to- 
wards her father's room. The children 
were looking over the banisters, and 
called to her as she passed, — 

* Oh, Aunt Laura, ^hat a shame of you 
to stay out so late ! Mamma had to 
make paper-houses for us — such things, 



122 LADY LAURA. 

not in the least like yours. And you 
know you promised to make some more 
this afternoon.' 

She looks up and promises to be more 
faithful to-morrow, and hurries on to set 
her father's mind at rest. 

Then a few minutes later, when the 
papers have been restored and she is 
going to her own room to dress for 
dinner. Lady St. Asaph looks out from 
her dressing-room, and calls her to her, 
just for one minute, to talk about 
Egmont's accident. She has discussed 
it minutely with Lady Sarah, who is 
scientific, and has been able to explain 
exactly what tendon has suffered and 
which bone has narrowly escaped dislo- 
cation. But this instructive form of sym- 
pathy, though entirely after the pattern 
of Lady St. Asaph'§ principles, is not all 
that she wants; for, in spite of her 
severe common-sense, she is at heart 



LADY LAURA. 123 

rather incolierent in lier affection for lier 
children, and at this moment she is as 
glad that Egmont is coming home as 
she is sorry that he has hurt himself — 
at the same time that she is disposed to 
think a sprained ankle a veiy serious 
affair. Lam'a quite agrees T\ith her; and, 
as she kneels before the fire, asking un- 
scientific questions and wondering which 
room will be most convenient to lay 
the invalid up in and how long it will 
be before he is about again, — hardly a 
word being said the while about the 
stranger who is coming with him, — Lady 
St. Asaph feels herself comforted, and 
Laura begins to think that Mr. Heme 
is after all an element of very small 
consequence in the news of th after- 
noon, and that she has been distressing 
herself needlessly about him. He will 
stay a few days at the castle, and then 
go his way, and probably never be seen 



124 LADV LAURA. 

again, as has happened with so many 
visitors whom chance circnmstances have 
driven to the house, hut who, the first 
visit over, have never heen hidden for a 
second. And if anything was still want- 
ing to restore her spirits, it was supplied 
hy a suggestion from Khoos, who met 
her on the landing as she came from 
her mother's room. 

* Oh, you have come in,' he said ; ' have 
you seen my father ? He is in a terrible 
way about some sheets of precious manu- 
script that have been burned or stolen 
by some malicious person, and altogether 
we are in shocking spirits, for Egmont has 
been spraining his ankle and letting him- 
self be picked up by an earnest radical 
who is coming here to improve us. Have 
you heard about it ? ' 

^ Yes, I had a letter from Egmont too,' 
said Laura, and then, prompted by the 
habitual instinct of sympathy with her 



LADY LAURA. I25 

favourite brother, she added, * Cassandra 
says that Mr. Heme is very nice.' 

* Does she ? ' returned Khoos. '• Then 
it is all right, for we have just settled that 
he is coming on purpose to marry her.' 

Coming on purpose to marry Cas- 
sandra ! Here was a new light for Laura, 
and in every way a comforting one. It 
explained and justified all that had per- 
plexed her in her cousin's manner, and 
it helped to reconcile her to the new- 
comer — not only because appreciation 
of Cassandra was a good point in him, 
but because the new theory brought 
him at once within the circle of her 
home affections. It also provided an 
explanation for what had hitherto been 
the insoluble problem of the whole 
neighbourhood, namely Cassandra's pro- 
tracted spinsterhood. She was un- 
doubtedly the most beautiful and popular 
woman of surrounding society, and yet 



126 LADY LAURA. 

she was thirty and unmarried. It was 
impossible to suppose that she had not 
had many opportunities of changing her 
condition, and almost as impossible to 
conceive that a woman of so warm a 
temperament should deliberately prefer 
to live and die unmarried. But all 
mystery was removed the moment one 
supposed a faithful and thwarted attach- 
ment to subsist between her and her 
cousin. The supposition was as probable 
as romantic, and thus recommended itself 
doubly to Laura. And though she was 
not scientific like Lady Sarah, her mind 
found satisfaction in a good explanation, 
even though it might not remove all 
distressing elements. Nothing had been 
said to clear Heme from the imputation 
of heterodoxy, nothing to assure her that 
Egmont was proof against his influence. 
Nevertheless, by the time she was dressed 
for dinner she found herself looking for- 



LADY LAURA. 127 

ward to his visit with a feeling of pleasant 
curiosity ; and as she sat by her father's 
couch later in the evening, chatting to 
him about her drive to Cresford, and all 
that she had seen and done and bought 
in the town — details that would have 
wearied him from any other lips than 
Laura's — she looked as serene as usual, 
and no one could have guessed what a 
troubled look her countenance bore a few 
hours earher. 




CHAPTEE V. 

' The remarkable law of nature in cases of poisoning is 
that it is always the person who takes the dose who is 
poisoned, and not the person who gives it. It is a very 
strange law, but it is a law. Nature merely sees to the 
carrying out of the normal operation of arsenic. She 
never troubles herself to ask who gave it.' 

T was a pity Cassandra could 
not know how quickly the look 
of trouhle passed from Laura's 
face ; for it haunted her reproachfully 
as she went back into the house after 
watching the pony-carriage disappear in 
the darkness — haunted her with the 
exaggeration that belonged to all Cas- 
sandra's moods and made her life an 
uneasy alternation of impulsive action 




LADY LAURA. 129 

and impotent repentance. She was al- 
ways saying things and wishing them 
unsaid, doing and trying to undo ; for 
nature had dowered her with an ardent 
passionate temperament, ever leaping 
upward towards heights of ideal virtue, 
and too often failing in the ABC 
of daily duty. And somehow it never 
seemed to help her much that, between 
her impetuous moods, came intervals 
of dispassionate reflection, in which her 
unwise words and deeds found them- 
selves arraigned before the tribunal 
of a most clear and logical judgment. 
She might condemn herself and repent, 
and then, even while vows of improve- 
ment were hot in her heart, find herself 
entangled in the consequences of some 
new indiscretion, and know that once 
more her judgment had been submerged 
by her emotions, like a too-low harbour 
light that gives clear warning the greater 

VOL. I. 9 



I.30 LADY LAURA. 

part of the year, but is quenched by the 
flood-tide in the hour that needs it most. 
Such a character is generally a dis- 
tui'bing element in a family, especially 
when the current of its sympathies flows 
in a contrary direction to the main 
stream of the household life. And this 
was eminently the case with Cassandra : 
she was an odd one at home, a stranger 
in the family circle, and I think not 
wholly through her own fault. Like 
most impetuous people, she had been 
difficult to manage in childhood, and her 
passionate outbreaks had been the occa- 
sion of much worry and discomfort at 
home. Her mother was too weak to 
control her, and her father too impatient ; 
for, as usual, it was with the parent from 
whom the faults of her character were in- 
herited that they met with the least for- 
bearance. Mrs. Gwynne would sometimes 
expostulate feebly for hours, while Cassan- 



LADY LAURA. 131 

dra screamed only more and more lustily, 
till her father came in and put a summary 
end to the un edifying scene by shutting 
her up in an attic for the remainder of 
the day. For Mr. Gwynne tolerated no 
unruly temper in the house except his 
own, and permitted no one but himself 
to make his wife unhappy. Naturally 
enough Cassandra did not improve much 
under this regime of conflicting weak- 
ness and severity, and at last it was 
decided that the only hope of salvation 
for her lay in sending her away to school. 
The decision w^as of course her father's — 
her mother would have preferred to keep 
her at home, even at the cost of a weekly 
headache. But Mr. Gwynne always in- 
clined to the solving of problems in the 
manner practised by Alexander on the 
famous knot, and Mrs. Gwynne never 
strove long against her husband's wishes. 
The school chosen was one that had been 



132 LADY LAURA. 

lately opened at Asnieres by a French 
lady, who had been governess for a time 
to Lady St. Asaph's daughters. Lady 
St. Asaph had a high opinion of Madame 
Bandoiiin, and it was by her advice 
and in reliance on her patronage, that 
the school was started. She lent money 
to forward the enterprise and was ener- 
getic in recommending her friends and 
acquaintance to entrust their daughters 
to the care of her protegee ; and as 
soon as she was informed by her sister- 
in-law of the determination to send the 
impracticable Cassandra to school, she 
urged upon her the advisability of 
placing her with Madame Baudouin, 
whom she described as a woman of in- 
finite patience and calm manner that 
won an almost unconscious obedience 
and respect from those about her. Mrs. 
Gwynne was always glad to escape 
responsibility by acting on the advice 



LADY LAURA. 133 

of others, and in this case she felt that 
she was really doing wisely in doing as 
she was bid. She had boundless confi- 
dence in Lady St. Asaph's judgment, and 
thanked Providence for having created a 
person so suitable as Madame Baudouin 
for the task of educating her child. 
And so at ten years old Cassandi-a was 
taken by her father to Asnieres, and left 
to grow up among foreign influences.. 

Among these influences was one upon 
which Lady St. Asaph had not calculated 
when she spoke so confidently of Madame 
Baudouin's school as the safest place 
imaginable for her passionate little niece 
— an influence far more congenial to 
the child's character than that of the 
somewhat cold-natured head- mistress, 
and to which she gave herself up in- 
voluntarily and unreservedly as soon as 
she was old enough to come within its 
sphere. 



134 LADY LAURA. 

This influence was embodied in the 
person of Mademoiselle Azvedo, the lady 
who taught singing in the school. She 
was a woman of mixed French and Spanish 
extraction, who combined many of the 
most attractive characteristics of both 
nations. She was clever, versatile, viva- 
cious, and had a Frenchwoman's tact 
and charm of manner, while her beauty 
was of the richly glowing type that be- 
longs to the South. She had large lus- 
trous eyes, and voluptuous outlines that 
would have become a Cleopatra, and a 
voice that might have driven an arch- 
angel to despair. To Cassandra she 
seemed the incarnation of womanly per- 
fection — she came to her as that most 
inspiring of all revelations in which the 
mind first recognises the ideal towards 
which its own genius tends. Hitherto 
all the passion of the girl's nature had 
found its only vent in wild outbreaks 



LADY LAURA. 135 

of temper, all the strength of her indi- 
viduality had availed only to nourish her 
insubordination ; for the conception of 
training that prevailed in her home was 
of that stultifying kind that excludes all 
influences calculated to enlist passion 
and character on the side of right, but, 
regarding them solely as dangerous 
auxiliaries of wrong, strives to crush 
them down by a system of which all the 
strength lies in its prohibitions and 
restraints. Eight was presented to her 
as a mysterious something of arbitrary 
value to be painfully attained by the 
renunciation of many things essentially 
fair and pleasant. Wrong was somehow 
identified with almost everything towards 
which her inchnation leaned. That right 
was lovely and wrong hideous, was a 
truth that no one had ever tried to set 
before her till she heard it travestied 
on Mademoiselle Azvedo's lips, and 



136 LADY LAURA. 

then it came to her as a very pleasant 
gospel. 

The singing-mistress recked little 
enough of restraints — they were disagree- 
able to herself and troublesome to impose 
on others. She never put herself to the 
pain of rebuking ; if a pupil was lazy, 
she let her lag ; if naughty, she shrugged 
her shoulders and said, ' Tauvre enfant^ 
we must not be hard on her — the way of 
duty is triste, and le hon Dieu has given 
her a nature that loves enjoyment — we 
must let her enjoy.' And what she pre- 
scribed for her pupils she practised her- 
self, for to her, too, le hon Dieu had 
given a nature that loved enjoyment, and 
she did her best to enjoy. 

The good and the beautiful were inter- 
changeable terms with her, and her only 
criterion for either was her own taste, 
which found them to lie in splendid 
dresses and jewels, in amorous poetry 



LADY LAURA. \yj 

and passionate music, and above all in 
gratified vanity and sensuous enjoyment. 
She sang at the concert-rooms of the 
little town, and once or twice Cassandra 
went with the other girls to hear her sing. 
Those were occasions of strange and 
almost terrible experience to Cassandra. 
Music was to her as the natm^al element 
of her soul, and under its influence it 
always seemed to her that the world 
widened round her, and pains and joys, 
otherwise untasted, crowded upon her 
quickened senses and made her, for the 
space of a few mad minutes, free of 
the whole universe of human emotion. 
While Mademoiselle Azvedo sang, she was 
no longer a child but a passionate woman — 
in turn triumphant and despauing, in- 
toxic atingly happy and wretched past all 
consolation. She loved, enjoyed, knew 
jealousy, and thu'sted for revenge. Then 
the last notes of the singer's voice died 



138 LADY LAURA. 

away, tlie dream-world became dim, the 
walls of the concert-room closed her in, 
her schoolfellows were chattering round 
her, her heart recovered its calm beat, — 
and she was again only one of Madame 
'BdiM(iovim' ^pensionnaires. But the moment 
of unmixed sweetness came at the end 
of the concert, when the singing-mistress 
stopd forth as the heroine of the evening, 
for whom bouquets fell in showers, and 
hands and voices raised an uproar of 
applause ; and Cassandra knew that to- 
morrow the goddess would come and 
talk with caressing familiarity to her, 
the little, unnoticed school-girl. 

The admirations of impressionable 
people are the moulds in which they 
cast their own characters, and by degrees 
Cassandra felt herself growing like her 
singing-mistress ; she heard the echo of 
her tones in her own voice, and found 
herself making use of her idioms and 



LADY LAURA, 139 

emphasizing lier speech with gestures 
first seen on the platform of the concert- 
room. It was natural that she should 
rejoice at the discovery, and not very 
unnatural that when her schooKellows 
taxed her mth imitation she should in- 
dignantly repudiate the charge. Not in- 
sincere either, for of conscious imitation 
she was innocent — she but reflected the 
woman she admired as a miiTor reflects 
the face that bends above it. But though 
she repelled her schoolfellows' taunts in- 
dignantly, they were not without sweet- 
ness for her, inasmuch as they made her 
in a degree a martyr in her idol's cause. 
But for them she might have sickened of 
the sweet monotony of flattery and car- 
esses with which Mademoiselle Azvedo 
repaid her adoration. 

I am fully aware that the influence 
of this woman was by no means the 
most wholesome that could have been 



I40 LADY LAURA. 

desired for a girl of Cassandra's tempera- 
ment, and yet I say advisedly that so 
far I think it did her good rather than 
harm. Like many an older worshipper, 
Cassandra believed that her goddess must 
necessarily be as pure and good as she 
was brilliant and beautiful. And though 
it certainly is not prudent to tell little 
girls that they are prodigies of beauty and 
talent, it must not on the other hand be 
forgotten that people who have great gifts 
are pretty sure to make the discovery of 
them before long, and that, perhaps, by 
means even more dangerous than the 
praises of one whose own gifts seem im- 
measurably greater than those she con- 
descends to praise. And though there 
was much sad nonsense in Mademoiselle 
Azvedo's rhapsodies about the religion of 
enjoyment and the intentions of le hon 
Dieiij her doctrine had yet a side of truth 
that came home to her pupil with stimu- 



LADY LAURA. 141 

lating power. Cassandra would probably 
have enjoyed life whether or not she had 
been told that to do so was her first duty, 
but it is doubtful whether she would have 
pressed on to the utmost development of 
her gifts if she had not been led in some 
way to believe that in that direction lay 
the satisfaction of her religious feehngs 
as well as of her tastes. She was better 
than her teacher by the possession of a 
conscience ; and the problem of enjoy- 
ment was consequently complicated for 
her by a good many considerations of 
a nature likely to retard its solution, 
and to keep her in the meantime humble 
and even at times unhappy. 

When Cassandra came home once a 
year for a month's holiday, she never 
talked about Mademoiselle Azvedo further 
than just mentioning her as the lady who 
taught her to sing, for she felt instinc- 
tively that this was a point on vvhich she 



142 LADY LAURA. 

would get no sympatliy from her own 
people ; and so her family knew nothing 
of the dominant influence of her life, 
except in its good results of increased in- 
dustry in study and rapid development of 
talents which they were beginning to re- 
cognise as something out of the common. 
Those holiday months used to pass so 
much more smoothly than did the times 
when Cassandra was permanently at home, 
that everybody was satisfied with the 
plan of foreign education. Mr. Gwynne 
took much credit to himself for the idea 
of sending his child away from home ; 
and Lady St. Asaph was proud that her 
jproUgee had justified her recommendation, 
and bestirred herself to send more pupils 
to the good Madame Baudouin ; while 
Mrs. Gwynne was passively thankful that 
things should go on so quietly and the 
great powers be so well satisfied. Cas- 
sandra herself, like all true worshippers, 



LADY LAURA. 143 

found happiness even in the remote con- 
templation of her divinity, and, without 
V7ell knowing why, was contented and 
peaceable during her short visits to her 
home. So far, I say again, Mademoiselle 
Azvedo's influence had done her more 
good than harm. 

But the evil of false religions lies in 
their being false ; the moment of danger 
is when their falseness is laid bare, and 
all the love and faith to which they 
have given birth are left to starve and 
wither like the leaves of a fallen tree 
whose uptorn roots can no longer suck 
the nourishment of life from the strong 
bosom of the earth. Such a moment of 
uprooting came for the admiration which 
had been the religion of Cassandra's 
girlhood. She was seventeen and had 
grown to woman's height, the rich emo- 
tional life within her had risen to its 
first and purest flood-tide, the manifold 



144 LADY LAURA, 

world without seemed very good to her, 
and her heart went out in spontaneous 
trust and sympathy towards all her fellow- 
heings, when in the bright morning of her 
womanhood the revelation came which 
darkened all her outlook and made her 
recoil in startled horror as though where 
she had looked to find the gates of heaven, 
hell's mouth had gaped instead. 

It was about the middle of the last 
term of her school-life that the event 
happened which took all the rose-colour 
out of her world. One day when the 
singing-class was assembled Mademoiselle 
Azvedo did not come. The girls waited 
five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an 
hour ; it was a favourite lesson, and they 
were reluctant to believe that it was to be 
missed altogether. At last the senior girl 
decided that Madame Baudouin should 
be informed. The class was dispersed, 
and the day passed without Mademoiselle 



LADY LAURA. 145 

Azvedo's coming. Next day there was 
much mysterious whispering among the 
authorities ; and in the evening, after 
prayers, when all the girls were assembled, 
it was solemnly announced to them that 
Mademoiselle Azvedo had been obliged 
to leave Asnieres suddenly and that they 
would have no more lessons from her. 
The girls received the intelligence in 
silence, and filed out of the room one by 
one. All but Cassandra, who stayed be- 
hind and, when the room was empty of 
all but herself and the teacher in charge, 
walked up to the desk, and asked in a 
tone of authority where Mademoiselle 
Azvedo was gone, and why? 

^I have orders not to tell you,' an- 
swered the teacher, put off her guard by 
the commanding manner of the girl, to 
whom she would otherwise have feigned 
ignorance. 

' Then I will ask Madame,' said Cas- 

VOL. I. 10 



146 LADY LAURA. 

Sandra; and she sought out the head 
mistress and asked her. Madame Bau- 
douin had more presence of mind than 
the teacher, and she answered very 
quietly that, Mademoiselle Azvedo having 
left Asnieres without leaving her address 
with anyhody, it must be supposed that 
she did not wish to correspond with her 
old friends, and that therefore the best 
thing they could do was to forget 
her. 

But then Cassandra's self-command 
deserted her, and, with sobs in her voice 
and a theatrical gesture that reminded 
Madame Baudouin disagreeably of the 
absconded singing-mistress, she declared 
that she should never forget her, and 
that she would search up and down the 
world till she had found her, for she 
could not rest without knowing whither 
she had gone and whether or not it was 
well with her. 



LADY LAURA, 147 

' Oh, Madame ! ' she ended, clasping 
her hands in passionate appeal, ^ you do 
not know how I loved her.' 

Madame Baudouin, alarmed by the girl's 
excitement, reasoned gently with her, 
and tried without entering into detail to 
make her understand that Mademoiselle 
Azvedo had not gone away altogether 
creditably, and that it would not be for 
her happiness to know her any more. 
The schoolmistress spoke in a sooth- 
ing tone and stroked Cassandi'a's hand 
caressingly, but Cassandra was not of 
a nature to be quieted by tones when 
she wanted definite facts, and to all 
Madame 's well-meant words she only 
answered, — 

'I want and will have her address. I 
love her better than anybody in the world 
— I cannot live without her, and I do 
not believe that she is wicked. It is 
you, Madame, who are wicked — you were 



148 LADY LAURA. 

jealous of lier, and you have driven her 
away ! ' 

There was just enough of truth in 
the charge of jealousy to make Madame 
Baudouin wince and to procure for Cas- 
sandra a severer rebuke than her defiance 
would otherwise have met with. Cas- 
sandra received her rebuke in silence. 
Madame Baudouin demanded an apology. 
Cassandra drew herself up proudly and 
went out of the room, saying she should 
not apologize until Madame had answered 
her questions. And from that time till 
the end of the term — her last term at 
Asnieres — there was tacit war between 
her and the schoolmistress. 

Cassandra had not much difficulty in 
getting the information she wanted, nor 
much satisfaction in it when she got it ; 
for the news was all over the town that 
the beautiful Mademoiselle Azvedo had 
disappeared with the husband of the 



LADY LAURA. 149 

delicate-looking little English, lady with 
the white sad face who used to be seen 
every day drawn along the invalids' drive 
in a bath chair: the servants at the 
school got bold of the scandal, and the 
school-girls bought it of them with pre- 
sents of chocolate and bonbons. 

That was the end of the first romantic 
attachment into which Cassandra threw 
all ber heart and soul, her powers of 
faith, of admiration, of love. You smile 
perhaps, reader, and think that to be 
disappointed in. one's singing-mistress is 
no great matter. To those whose temple is 
a crowded Pantheon, it may not be much 
when this or that divinity is knocked 
from a pedestal and shattered into frag- 
ments, but it is no slight pain that the 
worshipper of an only god experiences 
when one day he discovers that his god 
is after all but common clay, and that 
the shrine of all bis prayers is desolate. 



150 LADY LAURA. 

Well for him if it be only pain he feels, 
and not such despauing bitterness as 
drives him to denial of all excellence, 
human and divine ! 

Cassandra did not quickly recover from 
the pain of that experience — for it is not 
true that people are quick to forget in 
proportion as they are quick to feel : not 
truer than that the sea is shallow because 
its wide bosom reflects in turn every 
change in the overhanging sky, or that 
the roadside pool is deep because its 
surface is monotonously grey. Dive 
down into the sea, and you will find 
that it holds secrets of life and death ; 
but stir the pool, and it will yield at best 
a pebble that will serve to pelt a bird. 

Cassandra did not forget, but she gave 
no outward sign of remembering. Not 
to Madame Baudouin, whom she had 
defied in the first shock of her disappoint- 
ment ; not to her schooKellows, who had 



LADY LAURA. 151 

always laughed at her attachment to the 
singing-mistress, and were now not dis- 
inclined to triumph in its discomfiture 
— not to these would she betray the 
wretchedness she suffered. She drew 
courage from her pride, and bore her 
pain in secret. She worked on at her 
various studies with unabated industry, 
she sang with as much enthusiasm as 
ever, she made no verbal vow never to 
love or trust again. But, unconsciously 
to herself, a decree was made that hence- 
forth reserve and suspicion should ever 
dog her love and reverence. 

Saddest of all in the sad awakening 
from her di-eam of worship was the 
gradual realisation that Mademoiselle 
Azvedo's shameful elopement was no 
isolated act of wrong marring a career 
otherwise blameless, but a most consis- 
tent issue of a life which Cassandra now 
understood to have been impure through- 



152 LADY LAURA. 

out. A strong imagination is no con- 
temptible instrument of logical detective 
— once set upon the right track, it will 
scent out the whole way with the keen- 
ness of an animal instinct. Cassandra 
saw more plainly every day that she 
had been from the beginning the victim 
of a most flagrant imposture : words 
that had fallen without meaning on her 
child-ears now started up pregnant with 
painful suggestion, and she discovered 
that in her intercourse with Mademoiselle 
Azvedo she had been involuntarily ini- 
tiated into many of the least fair secrets 
that are written in the book of the 
world's knowledge. She had tasted the 
fatal fruit that closes the gates of Eden, 
and compels the saddened soul to wander 
forth into regions of little comfort where 
flowers fade and only thistles thrive. She 
could not help it, and yet she felt her 
purity contaminated by the evil that had 



LADY LAURA. 153 

been revealed to her. She could not help 
it either that her own imagination did 
the part of the flaming sword, and by 
its clear illumination made a return 
to ignorance impossible. It was not 
the least disservice that Mademoiselle 
Azvedo had done her pupil, that she 
had taught her to be very keen in scent- 
ing out iniquity — nay, even to conjure up 
its phantom, and take fright at it when 
the reality was not there. 

Thus, by the light of her disappointed 
worship, Cassandra made the perilous 
descent from the ideal to the real, which 
we are all destined to make, either alone 
or in company, at some period of our Hves. 
And a very precipitous road she found it, 
very startling and revolting to her were 
many things she met upon her way. 

It was a moment when the influence 
of home affections, could such have found 
their way to her, would have been invalu- 



154 LADY LAURA. 

able — wlien her mother's sympathy might 
have saved her from the abyss of moral 
scepticism into which she was falling. But 
the years she had spent at Asnieres had 
put a gulf of separate experience between 
her and all home associations, which she 
was impotent to cross. She had been 
sent among strangers at the age when 
children attach themselves insensibly to 
those about them — learning to love, with- 
out thought of worthiness or congeniality 
in the beings loved. The ground had 
been rudely broken when the first seeds 
were sprouting, and the season was too 
far gone for the mischief to be repaired 
by a second sowing. All her growth 
had been from, not towards, her own 
people; her ideals were opposed to theirs, 
her aims were such as they could not 
sympathize with. And when she came 
home after that sad term, she found 
herself even more apart from the rest 



LADY LAURA. 155 

of her family than she had suspected 
when she was only with them for a few 
weeks in every year. She could not help 
being conscious of the points of difference 
between herself and them, nor could she 
refrain from silent criticism upon them. 
Her father's selfish tyranny, her mother's 
submissive weakness, her sister's unsym- 
pathetic righteousness, exasperated her in 
turn ; and she wearied continually of the 
narrow limits of the whole family life. 
The least selfish aspiration of her father's 
mind was that the Chm-ch should be 
strengthened against the forces of Dis- 
sent, and Cassandra could not but observe 
with a bitter smile that his zeal in this 
cause owed its fervour much more to 
hatred of Dissenters than to any love 
for the Church itself. Neither was it 
possible not to feel some shght contempt, 
though of a gentler kind, for the pliant 
amiabihty of the character of her mother, 



156 LADY LAURA. 

whose virtues, hidden under bushels of 
impotence, gave no hght to those around 
her, but rather suggested that goodness 
was nothing better than a last resource 
of chained weakness. Nor yet could she 
find aught to admire in Anna's dreary 
round of punctually accomplished duties, 
of which the only visible result was her 
own consciousness of superiority to the 
remainder of the household. To Cassan- 
dra it all seemed very ugly and very 
useless — the whole household might have 
been swallowed up by an earthquake, and 
the world would have been never the 
worse. She tried hard to be just towards 
ways and views so different from her own, 
but she could not succeed in being sym- 
pathetic towards them, and she soon gave 
up the attempt, and fell into a way of 
regarding her life at Nant-y-Gwyn as 
a mere journeying through a desert, in 
which her soul needed but a shifting 



LADY LAURA. 157 

tabernacle — the building of a permanent 
temple being a thing to be deferred till 
she should reach the better country pro- 
mised by her imagination. For darkly in 
the beginning, but with growing clear- 
ness as the years went on that changed 
her from child to woman, she had been 
feeling her way towards a conception of 
life that should exclude no side of human 
nature, but, blending into one full chord 
the various voices of our complex being, 
should satisfy at once her judgment, her 
conscience, and her affections. Of such 
a grandly harmonized existence she had 
accepted Mademoiselle Azvedo as the 
incarnate type, but the conception itself 
was the inevitable outcome of her own 
character, and as such it remained with 
her in spite of her disappointment of its 
present realisation. It might be true, as 
her own experience suggested and all 
about her were loud to assert, that this 



158 LADY LAURA, 

• 

many-sided ideal was not to be lived on 
earth : nevertheless she could not cast 
it out, and the scepticism of others only 
served to strengthen her conviction that 
this was the goal towards which her own 
inner life should tend, and the hope 
never quite forsook her that somehow 
and somewhere she would find means 
to give it outward effect. Meanwhile 
she would do without sympathy, living 
upon hope and faith. 

In course of time her vague aspirations 
after human perfectibility were once more 
concentrated in a warm interest in a 
concrete human being. Those were the 
days when Maurice Heme was a frequent 
guest at the rectory. He was a year 
younger than Cassandra, and when first 
she came home he was only a clever boy, 
who was expected to distinguish himself 
by-and-by. Cassandra and he became 
friends at once ; she interested herself in 



LADY LAURA. 159 

his work, and sympathized with his bud- 
ding ambitions; and he was proud to 
help her in such branches of learning as 
are less insisted on in girls' than in boys' 
schools. They read and rode and walked 
together when he was at the rectory, and 
kept up an active correspondence when 
he was away. Altogether it was a most 
pleasant, frank, cousinly friendship, and 
a very healthful influence on both their 
lives, and one which deepened and 
strengthened as the years went on. It 
would be hard to say to which the inter- 
course of those days was the most 
precious — to Heme, who found in Cas- 
sandra's large sympathies and pure ideals 
the complement of his eager mental ac- 
tivity, or to Cassandra, who looked to 
see realised in him her ideal of a free 
being, who chooses the difficult right way 
in life, not because all others are made 
dangerous by di^agons of penalty and 



i6o LADY LAURA. 

prejudice, but because the light of 
knowledge shows it the most fair. That 
Maurice Heme was a good man, and yet 
no fool, was a thought in which her mind 
found inexhaustible satisfaction and under 
the influence of which she almost re- 
covered the exuberant happiness of her 
school- days. 

Such a friendship as I have described 
could of course not go on much longer 
without developing into love on one side, 
if not on both. And but for the quarrel 
about Gerard, and the banishment of 
Heme from the rectory, he would in all 
probability have proposed to Cassandra 
as soon as he was in a position to marry. 
But no words of love ever passed between 
them; and when Maurice was banished 
from the rectory, Cassandra believed that 
she regretted him only as a friend. Cer- 
tainly the house did seem very dull now 
that he never came, and she found the 



LADY LAURA. i6i 

task of living mthout sympathy grow 
harder rather than easier every day. It 
must not, however, be supposed that her 
life was without consolations. Far from 
it. She possessed a temperament so na- 
turally joyous, that every day seemed to 
bring her a tribute of gladness. She 
rejoiced in the beauty of nature, in the 
splendour of her own youth and talents, 
in the daily intercom'se with neighbours. 
She was universally popular, for there was 
about her a bright charm of communi- 
cativeness that made all her gifts a sort 
of common property. And in this popu- 
larity she rejoiced also. It was sweet to 
her to be loved and admired, and to know 
herself welcome in every neighbouring 
house — so sweet, that sometimes she al- 
most flattered herself that she wanted 
nothing more, and could live always 
as a god, giving and receiving nothing 
back. Almost, but not quite. There was 

VOL. I. 11 



i62 LADY LAURA. 

a yearning in her heart for some return 
of sympathy which could not be quenched, 
and which drove her again and again 
into rash impulsive friendships, partaking 
of the nature of that first attachment, 
and ending, as it had ended, in a sudden 
rebound at the discovery of some unsus- 
pected flaw. And each new disappoint- 
ment left her a sadder if not a wiser 
woman ; and each year as it went by 
developed the germs of bitterness that 
the first hard lesson had planted in her 
heart. She felt herself growing cynical, 
and battled with the tendency ; but never- 
theless it betrayed itself in her manner, 
and by degrees she acquired a reputation 
for saying satirical things, which made 
her to be dreaded in circles where she had 
formerly been treated with confidence. 
And continually she found herself revert- 
ing in thought to the pleasant days when 
she enjoyed her cousin's friendship, and 



LADY LAURA. 163 

wondering that she had let it go from 
her so lightly. For she had known well 
enough that it was something more than 
friendship that Maurice felt for her, and 
that if he made her no tender of his love 
it was her own manner that kept him 
silent — that light mocking manner with 
which she had so often before and since 
checked words of affection on lips from 
which it would have been sweet to her to 
hear them, and repulsed confidences she 
had laboured hard to win. She knew that 
she niight have married her cousin then, 
and she had often wished since that the 
might-have-been had been reahsed, but at 
the time the marriage had seemed impos- 
sible to her. Maurice was a year younger 
than herself; his career was uncertain, 
his talents were unproved ; and Cassandra 
was ambitious in her conceptions of mar- 
riage. She knew that her own gifts were 
unusual, and she feared the absurdity of 



i64 LADY LAURA. 

a union with a man who might not be 
her eaual. She desired a husband to 
whom she might look up, of whom she 
might be proud in her own heart and 
before the world. And then, though she 
was very fond of Maurice, it seemed to 
her that her affection for him was of too 
tame a sort to base a marriage on ; and 
she had prevented him from behaving 
as a lover by systematically treating him 
as a boy. 

And now, after an absence of seven 
years, he was coming back, unmarried 
still, and therefore possibly unchanged in 
his feeling towards her, and the happi- 
ness she had once let slip might be again 
within her grasp. If only nothing would 
happen to scare it away a second time. 

Her mind was in a strange commotion 
as she drove home from Cresford that 
afternoon, and it was not so much from 
any deliberately conceived plan, as under 



LADY LAURA. 165 

the impulse of a thousand conflicting feel- 
ings, that she made her half-revelations to 
Laura, and brought her in to tell the 
news to the rectory cuxle. 

She was very fond of Laura and wanted 
to fortify herseK with her sympathy ; and 
though she shrank from taking her wholly 
into her confidence, she wished her to 
understand the state of her feelings to- 
wards the expected guest. And also, 
very naturally, she wished that Heme's 
return might be accomplished without a 
disagreeble scene at home, and this she 
thought would be more Hkely secured 
if Laura told the news than if it were 
first heard from herself. She had not 
meant to speak flippantly, and had only 
been driven to do so by the fear of 
betraying too much feeling. But now 
that she saw how she had pained Laura, 
she heartily wished that she had been 
silent altogether, not only on Laura's 



i66 LADY LAURA. 

account, but on her own. It seemed a 
bad omen for Heme's visit, that the first 
intelligence of it should bring misunder- 
standing between her and Laura. 

She went back into the house very 
sadly when Laura had driven away, and 
instead of returning to the drawing- 
room, where she knew that a discussion 
about Heme would be going on, went 
up to her own room, and began walking 
impatiently up and down, trying to 
reason into quietness the hopes and 
fears that had been so long gathering 
in her heart, and now thrilled every 
nerve of her body with uncontrollable 
excitement. She was still occupied 
in this way and not any nearer to 
composure when the dinner-bell rang. 
' I cannot go down,' was her instant 
decision, and without a moment's 
hesitation she took a cloak and hat 
from a peg on her door, and dress- 



LADY LAURA. 167 

ing herself in them, hurried to her 
sister's room. Anna was not quite 
ready for dinner, and her first exclama- 
tion on seeing Cassandra was one of 
annoyance at being further hindered ; 
her next was of surprise at the cloak 
and hat. 

^ Where in the world are you going 
to now ? ' she asked in a tone that 
suggested, ^What new folly are you 
affcer ? ' 

^ I am going to the night-school,' 
Cassandra answered; ^I have not been 
for a long time, and I want to go. I 
can have some supper when I come in; 
and will you explain, please, Anna?' 

' Explain what ? ' 

^That I am not coming in to dinner, 
that is all.' 

' Why don't you tell papa yourself ? 
you have plenty of time. It is not fair 
always to throw things upon me. If 



i68 LADY LAURA. 

you choose to do what is disliked, you 
ought to bear the brunt of it.' 

' This will be the last time,' Cassandra 
answered humbly. * You know I have 
practically given it up. But there are 
some accounts I promised to settle, and, 
in short — I want to go to-night. Do 
not try to prevent me.' 

The night-school was one of many 
battle-grounds between Cassandra and 
her father. It was not a Church institu- 
tion, and therefore not to be supported 
by help from the rectory. But Cas- 
sandra had steadily refused, ever since 
she came home, to recognise distinctions 
of Church or Dissent in meting out 
her sympathies, and had thrown herself 
impartially into every useful undertaking 
that came in her way. She had, how- 
ever, for some time tacitly rehnquished 
this one, as the disagreements it gave 
rise to were so serious as to outweigh, in 



LADY LAURA. 169 

her estimation, the services she could 
give. In going to-night she was only 
flying from a dreaded discussion, and 
she did not try to conceal from Anna 
that it was so. 

' It is not I who want to prevent your 
going,' Anna said: * you can do as you 
like, of course, as far as I am concerned ; 
hut if you go, you must tell papa your- 
seH.' 

* I want not to see my father,' Cassan- 
dra answered. ^ Anna, you might do this 
for me. I think you know why I want to 

go. You might — you might ' She 

wanted to say you might have a Httle 
sympathy for me, but it seemed absurd 
to talk of sympathy to Anna, and she 
stopped. 

Anna said coldly, ' Of course I know 
why you are going, and I wonder you 
have not more self-respect than to betray 
yourself so completely.' 



I70 LADY LAURA. 

Cassandra winced. * You may be sure 
I would not betray myself to you if I 
could help it — if I bad any one else to 
go to ... .' 

She bad begun bitterly, but she broke 
off, and ended in a tone of sad appeal : 

' Oh, Anna, it is not often I ask you 
to help me. Will you not be kind this 
once ? ' 

Anna was surprised, and answered in 
a gentler tone than was usual with her, 
' I will say what I can to make it right, 
but I can't help wondering at you, Cas- 
sandra,' 

'Never mind,' said Cassandra. 'I 
wonder at myself. Good-bye.' And she 
hurried away before her sister could re- 
consider her promise. 

Anna told her father and mother that 
Cassandra had gone to the night-school 
for the last time, just to settle some 
accounts and finish up things, and then 



LADY LAURA. 171 

tliey went in to dinner ; and during 
dinner Maurice Heme was much dis- 
cussed, and many things were said which 
it was certainly well for the peace of 
the family that Cassandra did not hear. 



^^^s 








^ 


^mB^^£i 



CHAPTEE VI. 




' Sag 'ihm, aber sag's bescheiden 
Seine Nahe sei mein Leben.' 

H, Egmont, you dear boy, I 
heard you in the passage while 
Dawkins was doing my hair, 
and I was just running out to see you 
when I remembered your tiresome friend, 
and hid myself. Put down that great 
kicking boy and come and tell me how 
you are.' 

The speaker was Lady Laura, who was 
coming down the broad staircase dressed 
for dinner: the person addressed was a 
sort of monster, dimly discernible in the 
fire-glow as a tall man's figure, regular 



LADY LAURA. 



173 



and shapely enough up to the shoulders, 
but there, where the head should have 
been, rushmg into vagaries of fat legs 
and arms and clustering flaxen curls. 
As Laura finished speaking, a merry cack- 
ling laugh broke from the region of the 
flaxen curls, the big figure turned round 
showing a bearded face between the kick- 
ing legs, and a voice, apparently not 
coming fi'om the same source as the 
laughter, said humbly, 

^I am really very sorry, but ' 

' Oh dear,' said Laura, stopping at 
the foot of the stairs in pretty em- 
barrassment — all blushes and fluttering 
shimmer of foolish white di-apery that 
had got unsettled in the eager descent, 
*I took you for Egmont; the firelight 
makes things dim, and you looked about 
his height.' 

She did not know what more to say, so 
she stood still and waited for the stranger 



174 LADY LAURA. 

to finish his apology. She looked qnite 
serene now, for her blushes had died 
away and the white skirts had fallen back 
into their proper folds. As Heme looked 
at her, she seemed to him like some fair 
Alpine peak that has given one responsive 
throb in the sunset glow and then sunk 
into white purity again before one man 
can cry to another to look. So still and 
white and unapproachable she looked, that 
he thought her embarrassment at the dis- 
covery of her mistake must have been an 
illusion of his own sight. But she had 
not recovered so completely as he thought. 
She was in truth very much confused and 
not a little annoyed. 

Her brother and Heme had arrived 
while she was dressing for dinner, and as 
soon as she could escape from the hands 
of her maid, she had hurried down in the 
hope of getting a little Ute-a-Ute with 
Egmont before the family assembled, 



LADY LAURA. 175 

and, in her eagerness, had rushed awk- 
wardly into a meeting with the person 
she most wished to avoid. And now she 
did not know what might be expected of 
her : whether to go on her way to 
Egmont's room with just a formal bow 
to the interrupting stranger or to go 
forward and give him friendly greeting. 
Being a very timid person of small 
social resource, she did neither, but 
stood still and left the responsibility of 
the sequel to the other. 

The boy came to the rescue. * Mr. 
Heme is not exactly the same height as 
Uncle Egmont, Aunt Laura. He is jusfc 
a Utile taller, because when I stand on 
Im shoulders I can" touch the stag's nose, 
and I can only verij nearly do it on Uncle 
Egmont's.' Then addressing himself to 
Heme, * Let me do it again, I want her 
to see. Look, Aunt Laura, isn't he jolly 
to stand on ? ' 



176 LADY LAURA. 

^ I think you are making Mr. Heme 
very uncomfortable/ said Laura, — which 
was most unjust, seeing that it was she 
who had done that, and that Eustace 
alone of the three was doing something 
to set the others at ease. 

' Mr. Heme says he likes it,' was 
Eustace's defence. 

' That is very kind of him ; ' and Laura 
looked up to see the performance. As 
she looked up, her eyes met Heme's and 
they smiled at one another. Heme 
smiled first, — a pleasant, frank smile, half- 
amused, half-apologetic ; and Laura sent 
him back a reflection of his own smile 
with the addition of as little original 
meaning as possible. 

Eustace touched the stag's nose and 
was set down on the floor, and then 
Egmont came limping on the scene and 
had to be greeted and pitied. And Laura 
revenged herself on the stranger by for- 



LADY LAURA. 177 

getting all about him till she was recalled 
to a sense of his presence by Eustace, 
who was eager to tell his uncle about her 
mistake. When he had told his story, 
Laura said, ^ I am afraid I was very rude,' 
and she supplemented the words with 
another smile, in which, unconsciously em- 
boldened by her brother's presence, she 
allowed all manner of shy graciousnesses 
to find momentary expression. 

Then they went into the drawing-room 
where the rest of the family were assem- 
bled; and while Heme was being pre- 
sented to Lady St. Asaph and thanked 
by her for his goodness to her son, the 
party from the rectory arrived. It was 
a family custom that they should dine 
once a week at the castle, and Lady St. 
Asaph had not thought it desirable to 
put them off because Maurice Heme's 
coming happened on their day. She had 
merely mentioned the fact incidentally to 

VOL. I. 12 



178 LADY LAURA. 

her brother-in-law, leaving it to him to 
take the initiative if he wished to keep up 
the feud. It had been a satisfaction to 
her that he had made no difficulty about 
coming. 

Laura had speculated a good deal on 
the manner in which the meeting would 
take place between Cassandra's lover — 
for in that character she had now accus- 
tomed herself to think of Heme — and 
his offended relations ; but in the last 
few minutes, all that had been said and 
wondered about him before he came, had 
gone suddenly out of her head, and it 
was with a mental start that she re- 
membered now that he loas Cassandra's 
lover — the man of dangerous opinions 
— to whose visit she had looked for- 
ward with such uncomfortable feelings. 
She watched the meeting, and it seemed 
to her that everybody was as oblivious 
as herself. Mrs. Gwynne greeted him 



LADY LAURA. 179 

affectionately, giving him both, hands 
and smiling her kindest smile. Mr. 
Gwynne gave him a patronising shake of 
the hand that promised toleration, which 
was the nearest approach to sympathy 
he ever gave to any one ; and Cassandra 
held out her hand with her usual cor- 
diahty and welcomed him with easy 
gladness. The only one who was at all 
stiff was Anna, and with her stiffness 
was habitual; she went through the 
world hke one who has been sent to 
rebuke a perverse generation, and ad- 
dressed all her fellow- creatures in a 
manner that seemed designed to express 
a disclaimer of brotherhood. 

In a few minutes more they were all 
seated at dinner, and Laura was taking 
observations of the stranger from the 
opposite corner of the table. Certainly 
he was a very different person from what 
she had expected ; and, like most people 



i8o LADY LAURA. 

who have prejudged and found their 
judgment erroneous, she was inclined to 
make a grievance of the difference. His 
very personal appearance was all wrong. 
She had made up her mind that he would 
be a grave sombre man, old-looking for 
his years, lean and sallow, with a thunder- 
cloud on his brow — such an appearance 
being obviously the only legitimate one 
for a man of revolutionary principles. He 
was to look sad and haggard — haunted 
like a Byronic hero with dark thoughts 
that make him ill at ease in the daily 
business of un-Byronic life. She had 
meant to be very sorry for him as an 
unhappy person entangled in honest error, 
and she had resolved to do her best to 
like him for Egmont's sake and Cas- 
sandra's ; but she had expected to feel a 
certain awe of him and to have to over- 
come much instinctive dislike. But the 
actual man had nothing awe-inspiring 



LADY LAURA. i8i 

about him at all — neither did he seem 
a fit object for compassion. He seemed 
perfectly happy and as much at home in 
the every- day world as man could wish 
to be. He was talking to Lady Sarah 
about people they both knew in 
London, comparing notes with Lord 
Khoos about foreign hotels, and cutting 
down Egmont's exaggerated accounts of 
Alpine adventure — all quite easily and 
with evident interest in the topics. 
Beally one could never have imagined 
that he was a person of dangerous 
opinions, still less that he was on doubt- 
ful terms with any one present — least of 
all that separated from him by only the 
breadth of two chairs was the object of a 
thwarted attachment, first seen to-night 
after an interval of seven years. Laura 
was provoked into saying to herself that 
such levity was unbecoming and that his 
ease bordered on impertinence. 



i82 LADY LAURA. 

She herself hardly joined in the con- 
versation at all : she seldom talked 
much except in tete-a-tete — there were 
talkers enough in the family without her, 
and the listener's part fitted her well, for 
she had the rare gift of inoffensive 
silence, so that you never knew how httle 
she had spoken till you tried to remember 
what she had said and found that her 
part had been almost entirely to smile 
and look intelligent. I doubt whether 
she was conscious of how much her face 
talked while her lips were still, or whether 
she would have been always willing to 
endorse the silent speeches that were 
imputed to her, for in all young faces 
the hidden meanings of the future are 
fitfully revealed, and a young girl's smile 
is not seldom a riddle of which she her- 
self will not know the meaning for many 
years. And so to-night, though Laura 
talked even less than usual, nobody noticed 



LADY LAURA. 183 

that she was silent ; and Heme, catching 
her eye resting more than once upon 
him, certainly never suspected that he 
was being judged unfavourably. 

Laura was not the only observer at the 
table. Cassandra was watching too ; and 
though she took her part freely in general 
conversation and even fought a lively 
Httle duel with Heme across Mr. Tre- 
madoc and Mrs. Gwynne, who were seated 
between them, she contrived to see some 
things that Laura missed. She noticed 
for instance that more than once Heme 
tried to draw Laura into conversation, 
appealing to her opinion either by a direct 
question or an inquiring glance ; and she 
noticed that word or glance, whenever it 
went that way, differed indescribably from 
words or looks addressed to the other 
women present — differed from the formal 
deference with which he addressed Lady 
St. Asaph — differed from the tone of 



i84 LADY LAURA. 

frank equality as of man- of- the- world to 
woman-of-the-world in which he talked 
to Lady Sarah — differed by a whole world 
of mystery and poetry from his confident 
manner towards herself. Trying to define 
to herseK wherein the difference lay, she 
found herself thinking of the chastened 
radiance by which the commonest objects 
are sanctified in the light of a summer 
sunrise. 

As by fascination, her own eyes fol- 
lowed his every time they strayed towards 
Laura or rested on her face, and, seeing 
in the light of another's vision, she began 
to make discoveries. Suddenly it flashed 
upon her mind that Laura was no longer 
a child, but a very beautiful woman. 
Little Laura, who had hitherto sat at 
her feet and listened to her as to an 
oracle, was in a moment transfigured. 
Everybody else at the table might still 
regard her as a child, but to the new- 



LADY LAURA. 185 

comer she was a woman — and the woman. 
The fact confronted Cassandra with 
scorching vividness — with ominous, pain- 
ful significance. For a moment her 
self-possession deserted her. Lord St. 
Asaph was speaking to her and she 
forgot to answer; her eyes were riveted 
on her cousin's face — it had hecome the 
face of a rival. With a sudden pang 
she realised that the demon of jealousy 
had broken into the sanctuary of her 
gentlest affection. 

* Cassandra, you are looking ominous,' 
said Lady Sarah gaily. * What evil is 
hanging over us ? ' 

Cassandra started hke one whose secret 
vision is laid bare. Lord St. Asaph re- 
peated his question. She answered at 
random, and then plunged into bantering 
conversation with Ehoos and took care 
not to be caught dreaming again while 
dinner lasted. 



i86 LADY LAURA. 

But the vision was not dispelled. It 
followed her into the drawing-room when 
dinner was over, and drove her away 
from the fire, where the other women 
were chatting together, into a far win- 
dow from which she could look out upon 
the moonlit hills. 

Laura followed her. She had been 
conscious of the pain in Cassandra's 
face while she watched her at dinner, 
and had made an innocent little guess 
at its meaning. ^ Cassie sees that I don't 
like Mr. Heme, and she is hurt.' Upon 
which she had smiled penitence across 
the table, and resolved in a moment 
to forgive Heme's levity as well as his 
heterodoxy and to be as gracious to him 
as Cassandra could wish. But now, see- 
ing Cassandra still dreaming and unlike 
herself, she feared that her mute promise 
of atonement had not been understood, 
and she wanted to make it over again. 



LADY LAURA. 187 

She laid her hand on Cassandra's shoulder 
and said gently, 

' What, dreaming still, Cassandra ? ' 
^ Yes — dreaming in the moonlight.' 
' Tell me your dreams,' said Laura. 
' I -was thinking of an old myth I have 
read somewhere, in which man first wakes 
to life in the early dawn when the world 
lies grey and dim, and only the eastern 
sky is faintly tinged with crimson by 
the coming day. He turns towards 
the beauty with love and admiration, 
and, while he gazes, the sun rises in 
splendour ; his love and admiration are 
changed to awe, and he falls down and 
worships. Then the sun speaks, bidding 
him go forth and labour till evening, and 
promising to be with him in cheering 
light and warmth and colour. And he 
goes forth and labours till the sun is 
high in the heavens, when he shrinks 
from its scorching, not recognising it as 



i88 LADY LAURA. 

the fair light of the morning. But when 
evening comes, he sees the sun again low 
on the horizon and once more bows 
down to it, stretching out his arms to 
woo it like a lover. But the sun shoots 
bhnding arrows at him and sinks out of 
sight. In a moment the glory is gone 
from the earth. Then he curses the 
sun for unfaithfulness and lies down 
despairing. But he sleeps, being weary 
with labour ; and while he sleeps moon- 
hght steals gently upon him, and, without 
waking, he opens his arms and receives 
it as a bride in his bosom ; and rest and 
peace come with its gentle kiss.' 

^ It is a pretty fairy-tale,' said Laura ; 
'misty and dim as the moonhght itself. 
What does it mean ? ' 

'A hundred thousand things,' Cassandra 
answered. ' But, as you say, it is like the 
moonlight, and moonlight meanings are 
too dim for words, — they can only be felt.' 



LADY LAURA. 189 

She was not looking at the moonlight 
now, but at Laura, who was standing a 
few paces from her, leaning against the 
pier of the window. The moonlight fell 
fall upon her, clothing her from head to 
foot — she seemed the embodied essence 
of its meanings. 

* Laura, how beautiful you are to-night ! ' 
Cassandra exclaimed suddenly. * No — 
don't move. Stand where you are a 
minute longer and let me get a picture 
of you in my mind that I can never 
forget. I wish I could have you painted 
just so. You look like a spirit that has 
put on only enough body to keep it^on 
earth and prevent its vanishing on a 
moonbeam. But how strange it seems, 
when only yesterday you were a little 
child in a white muslin frock and a coral 
necklace ! ' 

^ Nonsense,' said Laura. ^ I have out- 
grown my own picture years ago, and 



I90 LADV LAURA. 

now everybody thinks the old Lady 
Laura is meant for me because I am 
so tall — taller than you, Cassie, though 
you pretend not to know it.' And she 
raised herself on tiptoe, stretching her 
neck till she towered almost a head 
above her cousin. As she spoke, a ripple 
of childish laughter ran through her 
words and broke across the melancholy 
of Cassandra's mood like a burst of elfin 
merriment. ^ Oh dear, yes, I have been 
a great girl for a long time, and I am 
not half so beautiful as you are.' 

* But you are a thousand times more 
beautiful, though somehow it never struck 
me till to-night. And now I really think 
you are the loveliest woman I have ever 
seen.' 

^Nonsense,' said Laura again; 'it is 
the moonlight, and my new gown, and 
your exaggerating imagination. Come 
back to the fire and talk sense.' 



LADV LAURA. 191 

'No, I want to stay here till I have 
found out the meaning of the moonhght^' 

* And I want to go and ask Dawkins 
if she can make me a gown of it. It 
would be so nice to be always lovely. 
Come back to the fire — it is chilly 
here.' 

Laura's laugh bubbled over again. 

^I wish you would not laugh,' said 
Cassandra impatiently. * Mirth jars upon 
me to-night. "Why will you not be still 
again as you were just now ? ' 

' Oh, because — and because — and be- 
cause ! Partly because it was only yester- 
day you know that I was a httle cliild 
with a coral necklace, and partly be- 
cause I have had a great shock and I 
am only just recovering from it. For 
you must know that, as I came down to 
dinner, I rushed upon Mr. Heme and took 
him for Egmont, and talked all sorts of 
nonsense before I found out my mistake. 



192 LADY LAURA. 

And I have been shy and frightened ever 
since till now when a reaction has begun. 
So yon must let me laugh till I recover 
my balance. But you — why are you so 
grave ? ' 

* Because — and because — and because/ 
answered Cassandra, making a vain effort 
to catch the playful tone of the other. 

And Laura said, — 

'I will be grave too if you like — 
grave and sad like the old Lady Laura. 
Do you know, I have been feeling very 
like her lately ? And this evening it came 
into my head that I could not do better 
than go into a convent as she wanted to 
do. That was when I had blundered 
about Mr. Heme and did not know what 
to say next. Is that why people go into 
convents, Cassie, because they have got 
into a mess and don't know how to get 
out of it ? ' 

A spirit of mischief seemed to possess 



LADY LAURA. 193 

Laura to-night. But at every fresh 
sally Cassandra only looked more 
dispirited. 

^ Yes, yes/ she answered bitterly, 
'people renounce the world when their 
own folly has made it unbearable.' 

'Don't be cynical, Cassandra.' Laura 
held up her finger and put on an air of 
mock authority. 

' I want to know what it is that makes 
people like the moonlight better than 
the sunHght,' said Cassandi'a, following 
out her own thoughts without regard to 
Laura's. 

'It is only the mystery,' Laura said. 
' The sunHght shows everything plainly, 
but the moonhght gives hints which we 
can interpret as we will. There is a fine 
explanation for you ! ' 

' Yes, I suppose that is it. All charm 
is in the unknown. Knowledge is the 
gi'eat disenchant er, and the world is a 

VOL. I. 13 



194 LADY LAURA. 

Bluebeard's closet to whoever holds the 
key.' 

'Cassandra/ cried Laura, 'the moon- 
light is making you unbearably melan- 
choly. I wish you would come back to 
the fire.' 

'No.' 

'Then I shall go.' 

But Laura did not go. She stood on 
in the window, spinning phantasies out 
of the suggestions of Cassandra's words. 
Suddenly she said, — 

' I think allegory is tiresome. It fits 
one meaning as well as another, and may 
be twisted and turned till it contradicts 
itself. For instance the moon would be 
just as disappointing in the morning as 
the sun was in the evening, and moonless 
nights would come. And then, though 
the sun is eclipsed by the moon, the 
moon itself is eclipsed by ' 

' By the earth,' said Cassandra in a 



LADY LAURA. 195 

tone of triumpli that startled herself. 
^ Wliat an irony of revenge for the 
sun ! ' 

The gentlemen were coming in from 
the dining-room, and Laura went across 
the room to arrange a screen for her 
father. Cassandra moved from the win- 
dow and sat down on an ottoman that 
stood at a little distance from it. Heme 
saw her and made his way towards her. 

She had meant this to happen ; hut 
yet, as he came near, she almost wished 
him away. But she sat still, greeting 
him only with a very quiet smile from 
which all significance was banished, not 
so much by a determination to be 
inscrutable as by the divided state of 
her mind. When they met two hours 
ago, she had quite simply taken up again 
the tone of affectionate friendship that 
belonged to their earlier relations, but 
what she had seen during dinner and 



196 LADY LAURA, 

what she had been feeling since, made 
it impossible for her to maintain the 
same manner now. But she had not 
yet had time to think what the new 
footing should be. She only knew that 
a blank curtain seemed suddenly to have 
dropped over her future, blotting out 
hopes that had been none the less 
sweet that they were vague and un- 
spoken — she could only scorn herself for 
the miserable envy with which she was 
conscious that the beauty of Laura's 
dawning womanhood had this evening 
filled her, and resolve desperately that at 
least she would not betray her vileness 
and expose herself to the scorn of others. 
If anything more were needed to con- 
vince her that her empire over Heme 
was gone, she thought she had proof 
of it in the perfect composure of his 
manner as he seated himself beside her 
and said in a quiet undertone, — 



LADY LAURA. 197 

^ You see I have lost no time in 
coming to you for instructions.' 

'- 1 ought to feel very much flattered, 
but on what subject am I to instruct 
you ? I thought you had come here to 
instruct us.' 

She was conscious that she was 
speaking with bitterness, but she could 
not help it. Two voices were crying in 
her heart, one tender and sweet, the 
voice of the old affection that had grown 
to love : the other harsh and grating, 
the voice of bitterness that might grow 
to hatred. The one must be silenced 
at any cost — the other she had not yet 
learned to discipline, and it rung tune- 
lessly through her speech. 

It jarred upon Heme, and made him 
shrug his shoulders and answer in a 
tone that was undeniably flippant. 

^ Suppose you begin by telhng me 
how I am to behave to yom- father and 



198 LADY LAURA. 

mother. I wish to do right, hut, reraem- 
hering the past, I am afraid lest the hest- 
meant steps should give offence. Am I 
forgiven ? Am I expected to call ? ' 

*I know no more than yourself,' an- 
swered Cassandra, ^ but from their manner 
of greeting you to-night I should say 
you might consider yourself forgiven.' 
' And at liberty to call ? ' 
' And at liberty to call.' 
* And you have no idea of what I owe 
my forgiveness to ? ' 

Did he want her to say that it was to 
her intercession ? Did he want her to 
say that she was glad to see him among 
them again ? She was on the point of 
saying something in a kinder tone, but 
at that moment Laura passed near the 
sofa and, as she flitted by, Heme looked 
up at her. The vision was there again, 
and under its influence she said, — 

^ Probably your being here is taken as 



LADY LAURA. 199 

a pledge of better conduct. It naturally 
suggests a radical change in your religious 
and political views.' 

' I should hardly have said so/ replied 
Heme. ^ Surely difference of political 
and religious opinion need not exclude 
friendship.' 

^ Not in theory I admit, but in practice 
it generally does, except in very special 
cases, such as when two persons have 
known and cared for one another before 
either of them became the mouthpiece 
of any set of opinions, or when they 
happen to agree in some one enthusi- 
asm that is important enough to out- 
weigh the points of difference.' 

' Then you entirely exclude the possi- 
bility of a man's being large-natured 
enough to recognise and be attracted by 
sympathetic human quahties in the midst 
of opinions with which he does not 
agree ? ' 



200 LADV LAURA. 

^ No, not entirely ; I only say that 
when he has reached that point I think 
his own opinions are generally tottering. 
Perfect tolerance is so rare a jewel that 
when people tell me they have found 
it, I generally think their eyesight is 
failing and that they are heing taken 
in.' 

^Is not this rather new doctrine for 
you ? ' asked Heme impatiently. * I 
thought you used to preach a sort of 
wide Humanitarianism that was to 
swallow up all sects and teach the Hon 
to lie down with the lamb.' 

* So I do still sometimes, but that is 
no reason why I should not occasionally 
state the other side of the question, — 
which has the advantage of being every- 
day fact instead of far-off ideal. And 
if I am inconsistent, may I not have 
my inconsistencies as well as other 
people ? ' 



LABV LAURA. 201 

Heme said dryly, * And all this means 
of course that I have no business here.' 

' Certainly you have no business here. 
You ought to be in the thick of life, your 
hands overflowing with work, with friends 
of your own way of thinking and feeling 
crowding round you, and all the needs of 
the time pressing upon you and com- 
pelling you to act. Then you would have 
no time for dilettante researches after 
sympathetic human qu ah ties in feudal 
castles. ' She stopped and tried to 
recover the hghter tone in which she 
had begun the conversation, for she 
was conscious that her last words had 
been spoken with the earnestness of 
mortified affection. She ended in an 
easier tone, — ' I shall expect you to tell 
me next that you are making a collec- 
tion of old china or devoting yom'self 
to the study of heraldry.' 

' And if I am . . . . ? ' 



202 LADV LAURA. 

* Only that you are another spirit lost. 
But tell me now, what have yon been 
doing all these years ? ' 

' Earning my living as honestly as 
most of my fellows.' 

^ That is to say, doing clerk's work at 
your office for four or five hours a day, 
and lounging away the rest of your time 
at clubs or in drawing-rooms. Maurice, 
you were meant for better things ! I 
declare if I had been at your elbow 
you should never have gone into that 
office — you should have turned shoe- 
black sooner. Why did you give up 
the idea of the Bar? ' 

^Does the Bar seem to you an ideal 
vocation then? It never struck me in 
that light.' 

^ Perhaps it is not altogether ideal. 
Few things are. But it would have been 
a thousand times better than this office 
routine. Any profession, any art, any 



LADY LAURA. 203 

handicraft seems to me a channel into 
which a man may turn all his energies, so 
that head and hand and heart work to- 
gether and grow together, and he becomes 
more of a man every day. But you can 
never throw your soul into your office 
work. And you are too — too indolent to 
do anything great as an aside. Can you 
deny it?' 

' Perhaps not.' 

' Why did you give up the Bar ? ' 

^ Since you insist upon an answer, for 
the simple reason that having resigned 
my fellowship I could not afford it, and 
that, the world in general not sharing 
your prejudice in favour of shoeblacks, 
I could not have carried on that pro- 
fession while I was waiting for briefs 
without damaging my prospects.' 

^I beg your pardon, I had forgotten,' 
said Cassandra humbly. She remem- 
bered how she had heard of that 



204 LADY LAURA. 

resignation with a thrill of sympathy and 
admiration, haiHng it as a first step in the 
career of uncompromising honesty that 
Maurice had purposed and she encouraged 
in those days of pleasant friendship 
which she was now just realising were 
past for ever. She felt rebuked by being 
reminded that he had made some sacri- 
fices for conscience' sake, while she, the 
rebuker, had made no sacrifice at all; 
and at the same time she felt exasperated 
that the first step in the direction of 
clear duty should seem to have crippled 
the steps that came after. ^ No,' she 
said, ^I suppose you were not to blame 

for accepting Lord C 's nomination. 

But, all the same, it is annoying.' 

^ There,' said Maurice, * I cannot agree 
with you. The office gives me a certain 
income, leaves me a fair amount of leisure 
every day, besides giving me a good spell 
of holiday in the course of the year.' 



LADY LAURA. 205 

Cassandi-a struck in impatiently, ^ And 
all these things are demoralising you 
.... are they not ? ' 

Heme shrugged his shoulders and 
said, — 

* It is not for me to contradict you.' 

* How is the Society ? ' asked Cassan- 
dra, making a sudden effort to bring 
about a better understanding. 

The ' Society ' was an old scheme of 
Maurice's in the elaboration of which 
she had herself largely participated ; an 
association purposing to bridge over 
by an organized system of help the 
interval that must elapse between 
the practical recognition of the perils 
attendant upon state-relief of pauperism 
and the dawning of that happier day 
when social sympathy — no longer content 
with merely breaking down old barriers 
between man and man — shall so fence 
about individual lives with shelter and 



2o6 LADY LAURA. 

support that charity shall be once more 
practically as well as literally identified 
with love, and human help, grown too 
sacred to be abused, shall flow freely from 
the strong, the wise, and the happy to the 
weak, the ignorant, and the miserable. 
The scheme was in its infancy in the days 
when Maurice was often at the rectory, 
and great things were hoped for it by the 
little knot of philanthropists who were en- 
gaged in working it, — greater things by 
none than by Cassandra herself, who saw 
in this society of men and women, banded 
together to help all who needed help, 
something like a revival of the religious 
fraternities of the Middle Ages. And 
while she aided the scheme with many 
suggestions of practical usefulness, she 
did more than any one to invest it with 
ideal beauty by insisting ever on the 
supreme importance of never allowing it 
to degenerate into a mere machine for 



LADV LAURA. 207 

the distribution of alms : it was to 
remain always humanly warm and living 
from the centre to the extremities — its 
cardinal law being that material help was 
to be in all cases followed up by such 
friendly guidance and protection as 
should make a relapse into indigence 
almost impossible. By asking after it 
now, she meant to put a truce to the jar- 
ring dialogue of which she was weary, 
and to lead conversation into more sym- 
pathetic channels. 

But unfortunately the Society had not 
prospered according to the hopes that 
had surrounded its cradle. Like most 
societies, it had steadily lost in charm as 
it passed from theory to practice. Or- 
ganisation had progressed, but humanisa- 
tion had not kept pace with it; and, 
though it was an undeniably useful in- 
stitution, it had fallen so far below its 
original intention that Heme was con- 



2o8 LADY LAURA. 

scious that Cassandra would consider it 
a complete failure it he detailed to her 
its present condition. He was conse- 
quently not disposed to talk of it ; and 
when she said, ^ How is the Society ? ' 
he answered shortly, — 

* The Society is no exception to the 
rule of universal failure.' 

^Are you talking about your Society, 
Mr. Heme ? I want you to tell me all 
about it,' said Lady Sarah, coming up 
to them and catching the word without 
the context. She had said to Ehoos 
that Heme and Cassandra had been 
left to themselves long enough and 
must now be called back to general 
sociability, and she had come across the 
room on purpose to put an end to their 
Ute-d'Ute. She sat down on the sofa, 
and as Heme did not answer at once, 
she said, — 

^I am really very much interested in 



LADY LAURA. 209 

this Society, for from what I have heard 
of it, it seems to me to be one of the 
very few really practical schemes afloat 
for regenerating the world.' 

'I used to think so myself/ answered 
Heme ; ' but I confess that I am begin- 
ning to lose faith in it.' 

*Why? What is yom- difficulty?— 
want of money or want of workers ? Or 
are you beginning to doubt the need 
of help ? ' 

Lady Sarah asked her questions plea- 
santly, and as if she meant to be 
answered. She had a talent for making 
people tell her their troubles — a talent 
that lay chiefly in a frank belief in 
whatever was told her. She was easily 
taken in by the disingenuous, but she 
seldom misunderstood the ingenuous. 
That everybody had difficulties was 
matter-of-course with her and therefore 
not to be ignored by any false delicacy 

VOL. I. 14 



2IO LADY LAURA. 

that miglit kinder her from helping. 
And this view of life made her a com- 
fortable person to confide in, for you 
could tell her that you had made a mis- 
take without fear of awakening surprise, 
that stern forbidder of confidence. Heme 
felt much more disposed to be com- 
municative to her than to Cassandra. Be- 
sides, her categorical questions could not 
well be avoided. He answered frankly,^ — 

*• Our difficulties arise partly from a 
want of workers, but much more from 
a failure on the part of those we have 
to grasp the real purpose of the thing. 
We are hardening into a machine, and 
to protest against machinery was the 
object of our coming into existence.' 

' Very likely ; but you had no right to 
expect any other result. Every enter- 
prise of this kind tends to become more 
and more mechanical as it goes on. It 
must do so, or be entirely dissipated.' 



LADY LAURA. 211 

* Is not that equal to saying that 
every enterprise of the kind mu&t 
fail?' 

' Not in the least ; only that it will 
fall short of its intention. But is it not 
rather chilly here? Let us go back to 
the fire and discuss the Society more 
comfortably.' 

They went back to the fire, where 
Laura was busy among cups and saucers. 
Heme approached her table and asked 
leave to make himself useful. She smiled 
permission, and the Society was forgotten 
for a few minutes. But Lady Sarah 
wanted to hear more about it. So by 
way of bringing back conversation to 
the subject, she said, — 

*Mr. Heme and Cassandra were very 
busy in the window talking about re- 
forming the world. I have brought 
them here to tell us how it is to be 
done.' 



212 LADY LAURA. 

'I am afraid,' said Heme, ^we ended 
by agreeing that the world was too bad 
to be reformed.' 

* Poor world ! ' said Laura. ' But then 
Cassandra is in a very hopeless mood 
to-night — she has been looking at the 
moon and it has made her melancholy.' 

'But I am hopeless too, and I have 
not been looking at the moon.' 

*You have been trying to grasp it, 
which is the most hopeless task of all,' 
said Lady Sarah. ' I wish I could bring 
people to see that to accomplish a third 
part of what one attempts is matter for 
thankfulness rather than despair. You 
attempted the impossible and have ac- 
complished the possible, and everybody 
recognises your usefulness. It is most 
ungrateful of you to be discontented.' 

'I don't agree with you at all,' said 
Cassandra sadly. 'The bitterest thing 
in life is to be congratulated on success 



LADY LAURA. 213 

when one is conscious of having failed. 
And from all I hear, it seems to me 
that this Society has failed — failed as 
completely as a picture might be said 
to have failed if it had been designed 
for the decoration of a church and then 
found worthy of no better use than that 
of signboard to a roadside inn. And I 
see why it has failed. I half saw the 
danger at the very beginning.' 

^You never told us your doubts,' said 
Maurice. ' It is rather cruel to say now 
that you foresaw failure.' 

^ I only half doubted, but I see now 
that my half- doubts were right. Your 
weak point is that you represent no body 
of opinion — that you have no common 
animating principle. You merely offer 
to be hands to aU who need help. You 
are like a character without individuahty, 
that may spend a Hfetime in doing kind, 
unselfish things and yet never be really 



214 LADY LAURA. 

cared for, simply because it cannot make 
itself recognised as a whole. You may be 
valued for the odd jobs you do, but you 
can have no influence as you are, — ^you 
will never become a power/ 

*You are of the opinion of Taper in 
" Coningsby," that there can be no suc- 
cess without a religious cry,' said Ehoos, 
who had been listening to the discussion 
without taking part in it. 

* Yes, I am. I beHeve that no society 
is likely to prosper in practical work by 
pursuing that chiefly and directly. It 
seems to me that the only associations 
that ever achieve anything in the way 
of world-reform are religious bodies who 
devote themselves, not to the remedying 
of any particular abuse, but to the setting 
before people some higher ideal of life. 
Once let people feel that they belong 
to such a body, they will try to adapt 
their lives to its standard. Look at 



LADY LAURA, 215 

the Methodists. Wherever you find 
Methodism taking a hold, you see those 
who adopt it becoming respectable, seK- 
respecting members of society/ 

'Methodism,' said Heme, 'is an instru- 
ment which I am unfortunately debarred 
from making use oV 

' We know that,' said Cassandra ; ' but 
Methodism is not the only form in which 
religious feeling may embody itself.' 

Everybody looked uncomfortable, and 
Ehoos said, — 

*I cannot bring myself to share Cas- 
sandra's admiration for Methodism, but 
I agree with her so far that I do not 
wonder at the failure of any cause that 
depends solely on committees. I have a 
constitutional horror of committees, which 
was aggravated years ago by my ex- 
perience of committees of the House of 
Commons. The recollection of them 
makes me ill.' 



2i6 LADY LAURA. 

*I doubt/ said Lady Sarah, ^whether 
a committee is much improved by be- 
coming sectarian.' 

' But surely it is possible to be religious 
without being sectarian. I thought there 
was such a thing as human religion, — the 
religion of the future.' 

Cassandra spoke warmly and without 
premeditation. In a moment she reaHsed 
that she had been indiscreet, and she 
looked for sympathy to Maurice, who 
must surely know what she meant, how- 
ever the others might misunderstand her. 
But Maurice was looking at Laura and 
seemed not to have heard her. She sank 
back wearily in her chair and let the 
discussion go on without her: she felt 
that she had been deliberately shut out 
from it. 

They talked on. Heme giving detailed 
accounts of cases of distress that the 
Society had tried to relieve. Lady Sarah 



LADY LAURA. 217 

taking persistently cheerful views, and 
Laura sitting by and listening with 
evident sympathy, while Lord Ehoos 
threw in an occasional sarcasm which 
gave fresh zest to the conversation. 
Lord St. Asaph had gone to sleep, Mr. 
Tremadoc was deep in a Quarterly Beview, 
and the rest of the party were absorbed 
in whist. 

Cassandra sat silent, with a terrible 
sense of loneliness at her heart. The 
return she had longed for was accom- 
phshed, the moment to which she had 
called across the long seven years had 
come, and she reahsed that it was the 
moment of her despair. 

Khoos came up to her and said, ^ Are 
you not going to sing to us to-night ? ' 

^Everybody is too busy to Hsten,' she 
answered, looking round the room at the 
various groups all apparently content and 
absorbed. 



2i8 LADY LAURA, 

* I am not busy/ said Ehoos. 

*I will sing if you wish it.' And she 
rose and went to the piano. 

Heme was talking eagerly at the 
moment and was not conscious of Cas- 
sandra's movement. But very soon he 
broke off in the middle of a sentence, 
though Laura was listening with her 
brightest smile. The song had found 
him out. Mendelssohn's music, Heine's 
words, Cassandra's voice — ^the combina- 
tion was irresistible, and all the room was 
listening. 

* Auf Fliigeln des Gesanges 
Herzliebchen trag ich dich fort, 
Fort nach den Fluren des Ganges ; 
Dort weiss ich den schonsten Ort. 

* Da liegt ein roth-bliihender Garten 
Im stillen Mondenschein ; 

Die Lotos-blumen erwarten 
Ihr trautes Schwesterlein.' 

Heme left his place by Laura and 
approached the piano noiselessly. 



LADY LAURA, 219 

Cassandra had triumphed, hut she was 
unconscious of her triumph. He might 
have talked on, she would not now have 
cared. * Wings of song ' had carried her 
away. She had not noticed his approach ; 
she did not feel that his eye was resting 
on her with the same expression — only 
infinitely heightened — with which it had 
rested a moment ago on Laura. She 
only felt that music was beautiful and 
that it was glorious to be able to sing. 

Glorious indeed to sing like that ! 

She had a magnificent voice, clear, rich, 
and mellow; and she had profited well 
by Mademoiselle Azvedo's teaching, per- 
fecting nature by careful obedience to 
art. She sang like an artist, and an 
artist who has never been tempted to 
truckle to a taste inferior to her own. 
But the magic of her singing lay not so 
much in the quaHty or compass of her 
voice, or in the perfect art that guided 



220 LADY LAURA. 

it, as in the passion and pathos of which 
these were the instrument. All the 
strength, the warmth, the tenderness of 
her soul, which at other times she took 
perverse pleasure in repressing, found vent 
in music : when she sang she dared to 
be herself. Her sense of separateness 
forsook her, wrong and weakness were 
blotted from her horizon, — she had 
passed into the poet's dreamland where 
all was rest and sympathy. She saw the 
violets kiss and look up at the skies, she 
heard the roses whisper their fragrant 
fairy-tales, she drank the cooHng waters 
of the rivers of the blest. 

* Dort wollen wir niedersinken 
Unter den Palmenbaum, 
Und Lieb und Ruhe trinken, 
Und traumen seligen Traum.' 

The song ended, and Cassandra sat on 
at the piano with pale cheeks and moist 
eyes, seeming not to hear the praises 



LADY LAURA. 221 

that broke from all the circle. Praises 
of her music were the only compliments 
that neither flattered her vanity nor roused 
her sarcasm : they did not elate her, and 
she never troubled herself to disclaim 
them, accepting them simply in an imper- 
sonal spirit as belonging not to herself 
but to her art. Only now and then — very 
seldom — when some one said a word that 
was not conventional, but showed that the 
music had carried to the hearer the same 
sense that it had for herself, a strange and 
very lovely glow would come into her face 
like a chastened reflection of the passion 
that had played there while she sang ; 
and she was never more beautiful than 
at such moments. 

She had not seen Heme while she was 
singing, but now as she leant back in 
her chair, she perceived him close beside 
her. The tenderness was still in his face, 
the gentle look had not passed from hers. 



222 LADY LAURA, 

when their eyes met. He bent over her 
and said, — 

' I never realised till this moment how 
much truth there is in the old conception 
of heaven as a place of perpetual song.' 

* Ah ! ' said Cassandra, ^ did I make 
you feel that ? It is true : one of those 
strange old truths in the midst of un- 
truth that make one wonder whether it 
is all true after all. But I thought 
you did not care for music' 

^ I always liked your music. But to- 
night you were more wonderful than ever. 
I know it sounds like an impertinence to 
say to people that they have improved, 
and yet surely you have made marvellous 
progress, — ^your singing this evening was 
a miracle.' 

* One has more to sing as one lives 
longer and suffers more.' 

* That is a sad way of putting it, — as if 
all beauty were the outcome of pain.' 



LADY LAURA, 223 

'Turn tlie proposition round, and it 
becomes consoling. All pain may be 
transmuted into beauty. That is my faith 
— and it is true.' 

* Will you sing again, or is it painful 
to you ? ' He was not quite sure that 
he understood her. 

* Painful ? ' she repeated with a won- 
dering smile ; ' music is my heaven, my 
place of sympathy, my revenge; I am 
never so happy as when I am singing, — 
never really happy, I believe, excepting 
then.' 

' In that case,' he said, ' one need 
have no scruple in asking you to sing 
again and again.' 

* Take care that you do not have to 
ask me to stop.' 

And yet she seemed in no hurry to 
return to her heaven. Was she not in 
heaven already while Maurice stood by 
her, talking without bitterness, praising 



224 LADY LAURA. 

her, understanding her ? . . . . Her fingers 
strayed idly over the key-board, waking 
here and there a tender chord or a 
fragment of melody. And then, all at 
once, the desire to explain away the 
misunderstanding of the early part of the 
evening mastered her, and she spoke in 
low musical tones that seemed to Heme 
to come from some mysterious region 
midway between singing and saying. 

* Listen a moment,' she said; ^ I want 
to tell you why I am so disappointed in 
your career. I used to think — I think 
still — that there is about you a kind of un- 
worldHness that is not common in modern 
men. You believe in purity of purpose, 
in disinterestedness — you are religious 
though you reject the faith of the ortho- 
dox. And if you had undertaken any 
work that was worthy of you, you might 
have made a poem of your life. But you 
will never do it now, for this office 



LADY LAURA. 225 

drudgery is jnst the most hopeless thing 
you could have fallen upon ; it robs you 
cf time and energy without interesting 
you, and you try to atone to yourself by 
half-hearted philanthropies. I do not 
believe in having one work for one's right 
hand and another for one's left. The 
attempt must fail. You cannot deny 
that it has failed with you, that your 
office bores you, and your Society is dying 
for want of concentrated devotion.' 

^ I do not attempt to deny it,' said 
Heme, speaking very quietly and without 
resentment ; ^ but is there not another 
explanation than the one you suggest ? 
How if a man has not the power to 
make a poem of his life, — if the inspiration 
of the morning fails him in the afternoon, 
and he discovers 'that he is a very un- 
heroic person, fit only to do hod- work in 
the world?' 

* That of course is very sad. But it 

VOL. I. 15 



226 LADY LAURA. 

is not your case. You have the power ; 
but you want — forgive me for saying 
it — the courage to make use of it.' 

^ You are too much in the right to 
need forgiveness,' said Heme; hut almost 
before he had spoken she was singing 
again. And she remained at the piano, 
singing one thing after another, till the 
carriage was annoimced to take the 
rectory party home. 




CHAPTEE VII. 

How green you are, and fresh, in this old world ! ' 

^l^^O say that Mamice Heme did 
not feel his return to Nant- 
y-Gwyn quite as intensely as 
it was felt by Cassandra is but to say 
that he was a man and she a woman; 
and that while she had brooded over the 
past, nursing its half- conscious dreams 
into full and vivid life, he had drifted 
into new interests in which the old ones 
were absorbed, and developed new needs 
that called for new satisfactions. It is 
by no means to assert that he was in- 
sensible to the memories that his visit 



228 LADY LAURA. 

revived ; still less tliat he tried to 
harden himself against them. 

In returning to the place where he had 
spent the happiest hours of his boyhood 
and much of that early period of man- 
hood when all the future is lived through 
in imaginative forecast, he was meeting 
his own past again and realising with 
present vividness the hopes and purposes 
with which he had started in life : 
achievement was confronted with inten- 
tion, fulfilment with promise, and the 
result was that the work of the inter- 
vening years seemed to wither into 
nothing before the all-embracing vision 
of his youth. The past had meant so 
much that the present seemed all failure, 
and Cassandra's words came home to 
him with more poignant rebuke than 
she suspected. 

* You might have made a poem of your 
life ; you will never do it now,' she had 



LADY LAURA. 229 

said. But in her own mind the ^ never ' 
had been qualified, for though she felt 
that the last seven years had told irre- 
vocably upon herself — crystallising ten- 
dencies into habits and numbing the 
youthful vitality that makes new begin- 
nings possible — she saw no outward 
change in Mamice save in the direction 
of increased manliness and vigour. She 
had grown rigid and felt old ; but he was 
young still, and for him all that was 
possible seven years ago was possible 
now, if he would but rouse himself and 
act. But to Heme himself the posi- 
tion looked differently. The barren years 
behind him seemed as a spell that he had 
woven for his own destruction, and Cas- 
sandra's words sounded like a sentence 
binding it upon the whole of his life. 

^ You might have made a poem of your 
life.' 

Yes, that was what he had asphed 



230 LADY LAURA. 

to do, — to be consistently pure and 
honourable, conforming never to the 
world's standard in belief or action, seek- 
ing the truth with unremitting labour, 
speaking it and living it. He had meant 
purely, he had purposed highly ; and yet 
now that forecast was changed to retro- 
spect, it was undeniable that he had 
accomplished next to nothing. Trying 
to sum up the achievement of his thirty 
years of life, he recognised with disgust 
that it was comprised in the part-founding 
of a society for the relief of destitution 
and the writing of a score or so of ultra- 
radical articles for the Reformer, And 
what was more galling even than the 
littleness of these results was the sense 
that he was beginning to doubt the 
usefulness of the Society and to much 
more than doubt the wisdom of the 
articles. Sad foolishness they seemed to 
him now, and he found himself growing 



LADY LAURA. 231 

liot with shame at the absurdity of 
passages that came back upon his 
memory — opinions caught at eagerly by 
his sympathies and flung out hot and 
crude before they had been tested by 
experience, — wild, unpractical cant of 
democracy, pregnant with mischief at 
least as deadly as the abuses against 
which it was hurled. So he judged one 
moment, condemning himself with that 
utmost severity which we reserve espe- 
cially for the follies of our cast-off selves. 
And the next moment he found himself 
growing enthusiastic again in the re- 
membrance of the moods in which those 
articles were written. The old demo- 
cratic creed might not have been very 
logical ; and perhaps, to have got beyond 
it, was an advance on which he ought 
to congratulate himself. But he had 
believed in it with all his soul; and in 
the days when he wrote for the Ueformer, 



232 LADY LAURA. 

he had been, he knew it, more of a man 
than he was now ; and he had fought his 
way through the difficulties that beset 
his start in hfe with an energy that failed 
him in the perplexities of to-day. 

It was characteristic of much that was 
best in him as well as a source of much 
that was weakest in his career, that in 
forecasting his hfe he had never occu- 
pied himself much with the outward 
details of its course, content on the 
whole that these should be shaped by 
circumstances so long as he held fast by 
his inward convictions. When his col- 
lege career was accomplished he was in 
no hurry to choose a profession; his 
fellowship gave him enough to live on, 
and there was work to be done in the 
literary world and further self-education 
to be carried on. Then came the religious 
scruples resulting in the impetuous renun- 
ciation of his fellowship ; and the literary 



LADY LAURA. 233 

work became a means of subsistence. 
Friends urged the adoption of a profession ; 
but every profession seemed closed by- 
some fastidious scruple, moral or intellec- 
tual, and literary work coming abundantly, 
lie continually put off the choice till 
further delay was made impossible by 
the pressure of family events. About 
two years after the resignation of his 
fellowship, his father died, and he found 
himself face to face with unlooked-for re- 
sponsibilities. The father had OTMied a 
very small property on the outsknts of 
Cresford, and had lived on a scale which, 
without being sumptuous, had consider- 
ably exceeded his means — with the result 
that by the time the property descended to 
Maurice it w^as little more than a nominal 
possession, being burdened with a mort- 
gage besides considerable debts. By no 
means nominal, however, was the duty it 
brought with it, of entirely supporting his 



234 LABV LAURA. 

mother. Heme had been but little at 
Cresford for some years and had been 
ignorant of the increasing difficulties of 
the home-life. He had regarded the 
eagerness his father had lately shown in 
snatching at any and every opportunity of 
getting remunerative employment as one 
of the many forms of monomania that 
show themselves with advancing years, 
and he was now painfully startled to find 
that the much-reduced expenses of the 
household had for some time past been 
met almost wholly by the proceeds of the 
various engagements into which the old 
man had entered lately, rather to the 
disgust of his acquaintance, who regarded 
many of them as beneath his social posi- 
tion. Heme frankly accepted the situation 
and reaHsed at once that the choice of 
some less precarious means of livelihood 
than his present literary one had become 
an imperative and urgent duty. It was 



LADY LAURA. 235 

at this moment that the offer of a place 
in a Government office came to him 
through the interest of a college friend 
who knew of the difficulty in which he 
was placed. The pay was small to begin 
with and the prospects in the fatui^e were 
not brilliant ; but it was a certainty, and 
would enable him to make a home for his 
mother. Opportune accident facilitated 
the sale of the property at Cresford for 
a sum considerably above its real value, 
so that the mortgage and part of the 
other debts could be paid off at once. 
But the whole burden could only be lifted 
by years of persevering work and thrift. 

Life was very real in those days. He 
lived frugally and worked hard, devoting 
all the leisure his office work allowed 
him to writing, not for the Beformer 
only, but for any newspaper or periodical 
that would give a place to his ardent 
Kadicalisms. And often he found his 



236 LADY LAURA. 

conscience hard pressed between the 
need of money and the inward necessity 
to be honest. But he struggled on, and 
in time the debts were all paid, and life 
was again comparatively smooth and 
easy. But the day when the burden 
was lifted from his shoulders, though he 
had hailed it at the time as a day of 
emancipation, seemed in retrospect to 
have been the beginning of his failure. 
The spur removed, his energy relaxed ; 
and the old tendencies to inaction 
dominated him again. Before long too, 
he found himself solitary in the world. 
By one of those strange strokes of irony 
in which Fate seems to delight, his 
mother had died within the year that 
had put an end to her anxieties and 
promised her a calm and assured future. 
No one leaned upon him any longer, and 
incentives to action must come hence- 
forth from within. But he was wanting 



LADY LAURA. 237 

in ambition and his enthusiasms were 
dying out. 

From that time forward his life was 
one of ever-lessening activity. Like all 
people of excessive moral fastidiousness, 
he was more afraid of doing harm than 
eager to do good; he dechned work 
on the plea of unfitness, and left it to 
be done by others who were obviously 
much more unfit ; he renounced opinions 
at the first shadow of doubt ; and hesitated 
long before committing himself to new 
ones. 

And while he stood still, the fiiends 
of his earlier manhood drifted gradu- 
ally away from him, getting engi'ossed 
in professional work, maiTying and find- 
ing a channel for their sympathies in 
domestic life, or spending on personal 
ambition the energies once dedicated 
to pubhc ends. In short the time had 
come for him when a man sees, not 



238 LADY LAURA. 

only that realisation of a tenth, part of 
his early dreams will cost him far more 
personal devotion than he once thought 
would buy the whole, but that this poor 
fragment of success must be sought by 
other paths than those he started on, and 
that these paths must be trodden alone 
— when he begins to question whether 
it were not better to give up visions and 
enjoy life with the rest. 

It was a strange accident that, just 
at this critical period of his life, a chance 
meeting with Egmont Gwynne should 
have brought him back to the spot where 
he had first found sympathy and inspira- 
tion. He had accepted the invitation to 
Ardgwen under the influence of a feeling 
not unhke the yearning of the physically 
languishing after the air of their native 
place. And now that he was back 
among the old scenes, the intervening 
years seemed to him like one of those 



LADY LAURA. 239 

tantalising dreams in which one journeys 
on and on to find oneself always at the 
starting-point. 

In the first meeting with Cassandra 
he had felt estranged from her — first hy 
her strained manner, and afterwards hy 
the discovery that she had undergone no 
change corresponding to that which had 
heen working in himself. But before the 
end of the evening, he had begun to find 
refreshment in her constancy and to feel 
better for her influence. And he resolved 
to take up again the thread of their 
interrupted fiiendship. 

Accordingly he went next morning 
through pom^ing rain to call at the 
rectory, and was rewarded for his trouble 
by a chilling reception from Mr. Gwynne 
and Anna, the only members of the 
family who were visible. Mrs. Gwynne 
was in bed with a bad headache, 
and Cassandra had started, in spite 



240 LADY LAURA. 

of the weather, on a three-mile walk 
across the hills. Heme felt aggrieved. 
He said to himself that Cassandra 
must have expected him to come this 
morning, and that it would only have 
been commonly kind to stay at home for 
him or at least leave a message to ex- 
plain her absence. As no message was 
given him, he concluded that she had 
gone purposely to avoid him. He made 
his visit as short as courtesy would allow, 
and came back to the castle rather out 
of temper. He went to the library, which 
he had been told was the common sitting- 
room of the family. But it was deserted. 
The men had gone out shooting and the 
ladies were dispersed about the house. 
Laura was with her father and Lady 
Sarah was in the nursery. Lady St. 
Asaph always spent the morning in writ- 
ing letters in her own room. 

He looked at the books on the shelves, 



LADY LAURA, 241 

but none of them seemed to suit his 
taste for the moment ; he took up a 
newspaper that was lying on a table, and 
flung it down impatiently on discovering 
that it was yesterday's, which he had read 
and re-read on the journey down. He 
was beginning to agree with Cassandra 
that Ardgwen was behind the world, and 
that he was out of place as a visitor 
there. He walked to the window and 
looked out. The hills were shrouded by 
-the rain, the trees were swaying back- 
wards and forwards in the wind, sod- 
den leaves were being beaten into the 
ground ; altogether the prospect was 
dreary and not likely to mend his mood. 
He fell into a vague reverie of discontent 
with himseK and all things, from which 
he was roused by-and-by by the entrance 
of Lady Sarah — bright and animated and, 
as usual, ready for conversation. Heme 
would rather not have talked ; but there 

VOL. I. 16 



242 LADV LAURA. 

was no resisting lier vivacity, and lie 
found himself drawn into argument in 
spite of himself. They discussed a thou- 
sand things. Politics, rehgion, philosophy 
were in turn their hattle-ground ; they 
disestablished the Church and established 
it again; they exchanged the Monarchy 
for a Kepublic and then elected an 
Oligarchy; they confiscated estates and 
distributed property equally among all 
citizens ; they educated everybody and did 
away with laws — inaugurating the reign 
of pure reason. And on all subjects Lady 
Sarah took a benevolently despotic part, 
while Heme — partly because he was a 
little out of temper and partly from a 
tendency of his character to take the 
other side on all occasions — advocated 
the most extreme measures of destruction, 
and mercilessly turned upside-down all 
her well-meant but rather retrogressive 
theories of reform. Laura came in now 



LADY LAURA. 243 

and then and remained for a few minutes 
in the room ; but she took no part in the 
conversation beyond listening and pass- 
ing silent unfavourable judgments upon 
Heme. He seemed to her to be saying 
a great many disagreeable things in a 
very disagreeable way, and she wondered 
to herself how Cassandra could be fond 
of him. She wished it would leave off 
raining, so that he might go out and see 
his old haunts, as he had said last night 
he should like to do : he was an 
uncomfortable person to have hanging 
about the house. But it rained all day, 
and there was no dehverance. And the 
next day was wet again, and they were 
obliged to give up a riding party they had 
planned, at which everybody was dis- 
appointed and inclined to be cross. The 
weather, however, was not bad enough to 
hinder the gentlemen from shooting again, 
and this time, to Laura's great satisfaction, 



244 LADY LAURA, 

Heme was of the party. It was a relief 
to have him out during the morning and 
not to see him at luncheon. But in the 
evening, of course, he was there again 
and as argumentative as ever. Before 
bedtime, Laura had lost all patience and 
told Egmont that she thought this new 
friend of his was quite unbearable. 

It is always satisfactory when the 
peace-breaker of one scene appears as 
peace-maker in the next. And so I am 
sure that everybody will be glad to hear 
that the weather which, by its sullenness 
during the first two days of Heme's visit 
had spoiled his temper and put him in 
Laura's bad books, brought about a recon- 
ciliation on the third morning. On that 
day the sun rose in yellow glory and 
streamed into Laura's bedroom, waking 
her early and persuading her to get up 
and have a walk before breakfast. It was 
a lovely morning — crisp, warm, and bright 



LADY LAURA. 245 

as only October mornings can be, when 
the sunshine is caught in all directions 
by red and yellow patches in the woods, 
and reflected by the plentiful dewdrops 
that have narrowly escaped being turned 
to hoar-frost. Laura had a long ramble 
in the park and was just returning to 
the house thinking it must be nearly 
breakfast time, when she came upon 
Heme, who Hke herself had been lured 
out by the sunshine. They exchanged 
good-mornings, and then he said, — 

^I have been discovering that my 
memory is worse than I thought it. I 
have been looking everywhere for an in- 
scription that I remember used to be on 
the castle, and I cannot find it. Surely 
it was over the big doorway. It cannot 
have been worn away by weather since I 
was here last.' 

' You mean our motto,' said Laura. 
^ It is over the old doorway that is 



246 LADY LAURA. 

blocked np, on the north side of the 
castle, where the cedars grow. I will 
take yon ronnd there if yon like. I think 
we have time before breakfast.' 

Heme remembered now, and wondered 
how he had made the mistake. He said 
he shonld be delighted to renew his 
acquaintance with the spot, and they 
started together — Laura showing the way, 
that he knew already, through a grove 
of Spanish chestnuts, and he helping her 
every now and then to climb over the 
trunk of a felled tree or to squeeze 
through a thicket. A little farther on 
the trees, became more sparse, and then a 
sudden bend of their path brought them 
out of the wood upon the bit of ground 
where the old cedars grew — a darker, 
chillier spot, to which the sun hardly pene- 
trated even at noon, and where the grass 
had perished, robbed of its nourishment 
by the spreading roots of the trees. 



LADY LAURA. 247 

' This is a favourite retreat of mine in 
summer,' said Laura; *butl seldom come 
here at any other time. It is so chilly 
and dark, and everything is so old that 
it is like going back a thousand years. 
So it is almost. This part of the castle 
is said to be more than eight himdred 
years old. There is the doorway with the 
inscription you were looking for. That 
was the original entrance ; there are traces 
about of a road that used to lead up to it.' 

^I don't think I ever heard the stoiy 
of its being closed,' said Heme. ' When 
was it done and why ? ' 

* It was early in the fourteenth century. 
There is a sad story about it ' 

Laura stopped, and a sudden reserve 
came over her manner. 

* Will you not tell it me ? ' said Heme. 

* Gladly, if you would like to hear it ; 
but I thought you did not care for such 
things.' 



248 LADY LAURA. 

' For what things ? ' 

* Old family stories and traditions.' 

^ Why should you think I do not care 
about them ? ' 

^ Because you seem to like nothing but 
what is new and modern — and to look 
upon all that is old as ' 

' As what ? ' 

*Well, as mischievous and false and 
untrue.' 

^ Indeed it is not so, Lady Laura. 
"What can have made you think this ? 
Somebody must have been mahgning 
me.' 

'No,' answered Laura; 'I judged for 
myself from things I heard you say. But 
if I have done you injustice, I beg your 
pardon.' 

She spoke coldly, and as if she wished 
the conversation to end there. 

Heme was distressed at the sudden 
change in her manner and quite unable 



LADY LAURA. 249 

to account for it. He had never sus- 
pected during the two days he had been 
at the castle that she disliked him or 
that she was treating him in any way 
differently from any other acquaintance of 
equally short standing; for in trying 
to be cold and stiff to him she had 
failed hitherto, as people generally do 
fail when they attempt a part that lies 
outside the range of their character. 
What she meant for coldness he read 
as sh}mess ; and when she fancied she 
was making herself especially disagree- 
able by her silence, he thought he had 
seldom seen anything much prettier than 
her quiet abstraction. The unexpected 
meeting this morning had broken down 
her reserve ; and in the pleasant exhilara- 
tion induced by her walk in the morning 
air, she had suddenly forgotten that any 
peculiar bearing was due to him, and 
had talked to him frankly and without 



250 LADV LAURA. 

effort. But now she remembered her 
objections to him, and she shrank back 
into a reserve so marked that, though 
he could not trace all the turns of 
thought she had gone through on his 
account, he could not any longer fail to 
see that she had some unfriendly feeling 
towards him. Her brightness had been 
so pleasant to him that he could not 
acquiesce in its eclipse. There was 
genuine pain in his voice as he said, — 
* I am afraid many things that I have 
said lately must have sounded rather 
brutal to you. But in arguing one is 
often carried away to say things even 
beyond one's convictions ; and besides, 
I have known so few people who were 
heartily in earnest in their belief in the 
old orthodoxies that I have come to think 
that all the earnestness is on the other 
side. Will you forgive me if I have said 
anything that has hurt you, and try to 



LADY LAURA. 251 

believe tliat I am not quite so bad as I 
may seem ? ' 

* I have no right to be hm^t by anything 
you have said,' answered Laura ; ' it is 
your duty to say what you think. ' 

Again she spoke coldly, and again he 
felt pained. 

They stood in silence for a few 
seconds, during which Laura passed 
again through all the emotions that 
had been first awakened by Cassandra's 
account of Heme. Suddenly she said, 
^ I daresay you think me very silly, but 
I cannot help being made unhappy by 
the things you say — I am very foolish, 
I know. Because if the things are not 
true — and I am sure they are not — 
your saying them can't make them so. 
But it hurts me to hear them said — it 
hurts me that you should think them. 
You seem to me to want to sweep away 
all that makes life beautiful or even bear- 



252 LADY LAURA. 

able to most people. . . . Yon talk some- 
times as if we, who are rich and have the 
means to enjoy all the best of life, were 
heartless about the sufferings of those 
who are poor and miserable. But it is 
not just. We care as much as you do, 
and we do what we can to help. But 
it is not our fault that all are not equally 
rich, and you yourself say that mere 
giving is worse than useless. And then 
you, who say you feel so much for the 
miserable people, are trying to take away 
from them all their belief in a better 

world I think if I thought as 

you do, that there is no God to help 
the wretched, I should hold my tongue 
all my life rather than spread such sad 

news abroad. But you ' 

It was the first time Laura had ever 
spoken to any one, except Cassandra, on 
any subject touching her religious belief. 
Her inner life was a sacred place, girt 



LADY LAURA, 253 

about with happy family affections and 
over-arched by the blue heaven itself; 
her faith was the simple acceptance of 
the good news that there is a God above 
who loves all equally and cares for His 
world with ever-present wisdom, — a simple 
faith that no bitter experience had yet 
tested and which found better expression 
in the dutifulness of her daily hfe than 
in any forms or words. She started to 
find that she had inadvertently opened 
her sanctuary to a stranger ; and she 
broke off, blushing painfully. To hide 
her embarrassment she stooped down 
and busied herself with picking a few 
late blossoms of wild cyclamen that lin- 
gered under the shadow of the cedars. 

Heme was touched by the simple 
earnestness of her words and her evident 
distress that he should stand outside the 
pale of her behefs. He would gladly 
have dispelled it by an assurance that 



254 



LADY LAURA. 



he believed as she did, could he have 
done so honestly ; but he could not meet 
her simplicity with insincerity, and he 
answered her gravely and sadly. 

* You distress me,' he said ; ' I feel that 
I must have talked very recklessly — I 
cannot tell you how it shocks me that I 
should have given you so much pain. 
But in truth I am at a loss to know 
what sort of things you are referring to. 
Will you not tell me plainly, and give me 
a chance of explaining my meaning ? ' 

Laura blushed again, and looked down 
at her cyclamens. 

* I have been foolish,' she said. ^ I 
ought not to have said what I did. 
Please say no more about it. We should 
not understand one another. ' 

^ Certainly not while we refuse to hear 
one another,' said Heme, and there was 
something in his tone this time that 
made Laura look up and meet his eyes. 



LADV LAURA. 255 

^ You think me very foolisli ? ' she said. 

* No indeed, I sympathise very sin- 
cerely with what you say. I am only 
puzzled to rememher what I can have 
said to give you this impression of me. 
Not that I would disclaim the opinions 
you impute to me. But I was not aware 
that I had expressed them here ; and, if 
I have, I think I am to blame.' 

^ It is not so much what you have said 
since you came, — at least I should not 
have understood from that alone. But 
before you came, I knew. . . .' 

She stopped again, not knowing how 
to bring the charge of atheism in plain 
words, and wishing heartily that she had 
not spoken at all. 

* I see,' said Heme, ^ you had heard of 
me before I came, and the report was 
not favourable.* 

* Oh but indeed,' cried Laura, getting 
more and more distressed, ^that is not 



256 LADY LAURA. 

what I meant. Cassandra praised yon, 
and so did Egmont. I know you are 
good and kind — but I am foolish. And 
please let us not talk of these things 
any more.' 

^ Not if it is painful to you.' 

' It is painful to me.' 

* I believe you readily. And yet I 
think that if you would let me speak a 
little more fully, I could remove some of 
the pain I have given you, — and I should 
like to do that. For you see it hurts me 
that you should think of me as you 
do.' 

' I am very sorry,' said Laura. * I 
ought not to have spoken.' 

^ I do not think that at all. I respect 
you for having spoken. I liked what you 
said.' 

* But you think quite differently your- 
self.' 

^ I will not insult you by denying it.' 



LADY LAURA, 257 

' You would never persuade me to 
think as you do.' 

^ Probably not. But I might show you 
that on many points we feel aUke, and I 
should be glad to do that.' 

' What sort of things do you think we 
feel alike about ? ' 

^I think we probably feel very much 
alike about the miserable people you 
spoke of just now.' 

Laura looked doubtful, and Heme 
went on. 

' You are thinking again that, by thi'ow- 
ing doubts on the existence of a God and 
another world, we take away their last 
hope and consolation. But suppose for a 
moment we are right — suppose their hope 
is false.' 

Laura shuddered. 

'■ I only said su]);pose,' said Heme. 
' Suppose their hope is false and there is 
no consolation beyond . . .' 

VOL. I. 17 



238 LADY LAURA. 

* You mean that, in that case, it is 
better to say so honestly and try to find 
some other consolation ? ' 

^ Precisely.' 

* But then . . .' 

^ What were you going to say ? ' 

* I don't think I know. Yoa are much 
cleverer than I am, and perhaps you are 
right. But when I hear you talking 
about reform it always seems to me that 
you want to upset everything that I am 
most fond of; and that is why I can't 
agree with you when you say we pro- 
bably feel very much alike.' 

^ But I am sure we do,' said Heme. 
' Only we look at life from very different 
points of view, and, that being so, we can- 
not understand one another all at once. 
You say that I am unfair to you, and I 
feel that you are not quite just to me. 
Your life is so happy that all the world 
seems good to you, and any one who seeks 



LADY LAURA. 259 

to change it appears as a spoiler. With 
me it is different. I have lived longer 
— I have seen much of the evil of life 
as well as of its good; I have tried to 
find out the causes of evil, and I have 
seen that they often lie in the midst of 
much that is in itself attractive and 
lovable — for instance that the suffering 
and degradation of one class may be the 
price paid for the well-being of another.' . 

^ I do not quite follow you/ said Laura. 

* I mean,' said Heme, ' that in society, 
as it is now ordered, rich and poor are 
too far apart, — the high are too high, 
and the low too low. I do not think 
that it is necessary, in order that people 
should know and care for each other as 
brothers, that they should all be equally 
rich or equally poor; but I think there 
is a tendency in things to bring about 
a complete spiritual separation wherever 
there is a great contrast of outward cir- 



26o LADY LAURA. 

cumstances. The rich live together and 
the poor live together, and neither know 
the real life of the other. And I think, 
perhaps, if it were less easy for the same 
families to be rich generation after gene- 
ration, there might be a freer mingling 
of classes, and gradually the refinement 
and culture which now belong to a few 
would become the common possession 
of all.' 

^I think I see what you mean,' said 
Laura, opening her mind frankly to the 
new light. ^ But I never thought of it 
before in that way. It is sad to think 
that all the really best things of life 
come so much more easily to us who 
have money than to those who have not.' 

^ '^ Unto him that hath is given, and from 
him that hath not is taken away even 
that which he seemeth to have," ' quoted 
Heme. ' That was a proverb eighteen 
hundred years ago, and Christianity has 



LADY LAURA. 261 

not yet found out how to mend the fact. 
Is it not time to try another way ? ' 

* It is sad,' said Laura again : ' but oh, 
how much more sad it must seem to you 
who beheve in no other world than this ! ' 

^ I think that is true,' Heme answered ; 
^ and that is why we must be forgiven if 
we sometimes grow bitter over the evils 
we are trying to mend.' 

They had been walking slowly on while 
they talked; but they had now come to 
the steepest part of the slope, and the 
difficulty of keeping the path made further 
conversation impossible. They walked on 
in silence and wifch a sense of depression. 

But when they got beyond the shadow 
of the castle, and met the sunshine bear- 
ing slant-wise across a green lawn, Laura 
felt the recovered brightness as an irre- 
sistible influence. 

* Oh, how lovely 1 ' she cried, suddenly 
forgetful of the sadness of the world. 



262 LADY LAURA. 

. She had pointed to the view, but 
Heme looked at her. He had ad- 
mired her from the beginning, but in 
this moment her beauty seemed to come 
upon him as a new revelation. Her 
hat had fallen off, and she had slung it 
on her arm instead of putting it on again. 
The sunlight lighted up her face and 
brought out auburn tints in her hair like 
threads of gold among the dark coils. 
Her hands were clasped in front of her, 
and her gown, which she had been 
holding up during the walk, fell now 
in straight folds to her feet. It was 
made of soft Indian stuff of a deep-red 
colour and worked all round the hem 
and at the neck and sleeves with a run- 
ning device in gold thread and bright 
coloured silks, that had the effect of one 
of those jewelled borders with which the 
mediaeval painters decorated the robes of 
their saints and virgins. 



LA BY LAURA. 263 

^Look,' she said; ^ did yon ever see 
anything more beantifnl than that? I 
cannot help it, bnt when I look down 
there and see the snnlight on the slope 
and the river rushing through the vallej^ 
and looking so bright and glorious, I 
must believe that the world is very good, 
and I cannot help being happy. Is it 
wrong ? ' 

^ Is what wrong ? ' 

* To be so happy in looking at what is 
beautiful that one forgets everything else ? ' 

^ Indeed I hope it is not wrong,' said 
Heme ; ^ for if it is, I must be a great 
sinner.' 

^ Then you care for the beauty too ? ' 

* Very much.' 

* Oh dear,' said Laura, ' I have lost my 
cyclamens ! ' 

'Here they are,' said Heme; ^you 
dropped them while we were talking, 
and I picked them up.' 



264 LADY LAURA. 

' Oh, thank you — how good of you ! I 
should have heen very sorry to lose them. 
They are most likely quite the last of the 
year.' 

He gave her the flowers, saying as he 
did so, ^ May I not keep one as a reward 
for finding them ? ' 

Laura looked up hrightly, as if she 
approved of a man who liked cyclamens. 
* Certainly,' she said, ^if you care for 
them. Let me see, I will give you half.' 
And she hegan dividing the blossoms into 
even lots, like a conscientious child shar- 
ing with a playfeljow. There was an 
odd one. 

'You shall have it,' she said, * because 
you found them and were not too lazy 
to pick them up.' And she held it out 
to him with a simplicity that was very 
bewitching. 

The sound of the gong came to them, 
and Laura said they must hurry in to 



LADY LAURA. 265 

breakfast. As they went, Heme began 
asking her conventional questions about 
her pursuits. 

Did she sketch ? 

^ No, I wish I did ; but I don't draw at 
all. My lines are always crooked when 
they ought to be straight and straight 
when they ought to be crooked. Cas- 
sandra tried to teach me, but even she 
failed. I never can learn accomplish- 
ments.' 

* I cannot believe that. You sing ? ' 
Laura shook her head. 

' Then you play : I am sure you play.' 

'No, indeed.' 

' Then I believe you write poetry ? ' 

* Never a line ; ' and Laura looked up at 
her interrogator with an amused expres- 
sion that he had not seen on her face 
before. He had fancied her a person 
without humour, sweet, saintly, simple — 
too simple to see that things were ever 



266 LADY LAURA. 

ridicnlons ; he had even said to himself 
that a sense of humour would spoil her, 
and had almost gone on to say that it 
was unbecoming in women generally. 
But beauty justifies itself, and Laura's 
features lit up with a mirthful smile 
seemed for the moment even more per- 
fect than in the repose of gravity. 

* "Why do you look so much amused ? ' 
he asked, smiling himself. 

^Because you seem so amazed at my 
neither drawing, playing, singing, nor 
writing poetry. I believe you think that 
there is nothing left for a girl to do if 
she does none of these.' 

'By no means. I believe women do 
many useful things. It was not that I 
thought you had no other occupation to 
fall back upon; but . . .' 

' You think it stupid not to have any 
accomphshments ? ' 

' Eeally, Lady Laura, you seem to 



LADV LAURA. 267 

think me capable of nothing but rude- 
ness. What was actually in my mind 
was that there was something about 
you which seemed to promise art in 
some form. I hope it is not impertinent 
to say so.' 

Laura did not know whether it was 
impertinent or not. So she only said,— 

' Then I think I must be a great im- 
l^ostor.' 

' I should rather have said a mystery.' 

' That is charming ! I dehght in mys- 
tery, but I never dreamed that I was 
mysterious myself It is like being a 
witch.' 

And she ran into the house, laughing 
gaily. 




CHAPTEE VIII. 

Is all our fire of shipwreck wood?' 

'HEY found the rest of the party 
already assembled at breakfast 
and engaged in discussing the 
chances of the fine weather holding out 
so as to allow them to carry out their 
plan of riding to Brynllwyd. 

A note from Cassandra was waiting 
for Laura. She looked very blank on 
reading its contents. Cassandra had 
promised to be of the riding-party; but 
she wrote now to say that she had 
remembered an engagement which she 
could not well break, and so if the ride 
was to take place to-day she must give it 



LADY LAURA. 269 

lip. She was very sorry, but it could not 
be helped ; and she consoled herself with 
the knowledge that she could be very 
well spared as they would be a goodly 
party without her. 

'It is all very well for her to say 
that,' said Laura, much disappointed. 
* But it is not the case at all. It will 
be nothing without Cassandra. I have 
a gi'eat mind to go down to the rectory 
directly after breakfast and make her 
come. You don't want me this morning, 
do you, mamma ? ' 

'Not particularly,' said Lady St. 
Asaph. ' But if you are going to ride 
to BrynUwyd I had rather you did not 
walk any more this morning. You had 
better rest till it is time to start. And 
you would only tire yourself uselessly, for 
Cassandra is not easily persuaded out of 
her decisions. Besides, if she has an 
engagement she ought to keep it.' 



270 LADY LAURA. 

^ But perhaps it might be put off — or 
the ride might be put off,' suggested 
Laura. ^ I want her to be with us.' 

But Lady Sarah said, ' It will hardly 
be wise to put off the expedition. The 
weather is very uncertain, and I think 
I understood Mr. Heme to say that he 
must return to London on Saturday. 
That leaves us only to-morrow, and it is 
more than probable that to-morrow will 
be wet. We should be very foolish not 
to profit by this glorious sunshine.' 

'Will Lady Laura trust to my ad- 
vocacy with Cassandra ? ' said Heme, 
prompted quite as much by the desire 
to please Laura as that of securing 
Cassandra's presence. ' I owe a second 
visit to the rectory, and I might pay it 
this morning. I will do my best to 
persuade her.' 

Laura looked up with a bright smile 
of thanks. ' Will you really ? — it is 



LADY LAURA. 271 

very kind of you. I will go and write 
a note at once. I do so want Cassandra 
to be with us. She enjoys things so 
much that everybody is happier when 
she is by.' 

Heme's mission was however unsuc- 
cessful. When he got to the rectory, 
he learned that Cassandra had already 
gone out and was not expected home 
till the afternoon. So the expedition 
was made without her. 

Brynllwyd was a hill about eight miles 
distant from Ardgwen on the Welsh 
side of the country, and on the top of it 
stood the ruin of an old tower, which 
tradition said had been the earliest home 
of the Gwynne family. The road to it 
wound gradually upwards along hill-sides, 
beautiful with the ruddy tints of the 
dying heather and overlooking the course 
of the Dee, which flowed through the 
valley — now tearing tumultuously over 



272 LADV LAURA. 

rocks that the convulsions of past ages 
had tumbled into its bed, now gliding 
languidly through red oak-woods and 
copses overgrown with a network of wild 
clematis. 

The weather continued fine ; and the 
party from the castle set out in excellent 
spirits, laughing and chatting gaily as 
they rode along in the sunshine. The 
narrowness of the paths, and the frequent 
changes in the character of the road, 
tended to break up their number into 
continually varying groups, so that there 
was little opportunity for any prolonged 
Ute-a-Ute, Lady Sarah did indeed try 
to get up one or two arguments with 
Heme about the rights and wrongs of 
property. But they were too much in- 
terrupted to have a chance of becoming 
very earnest, and only contributed to 
the general merriment by giving rise to a 
good deal of friendly banter all round. Mr. 



LADY LAURA. 273 

Tremadoo was calmly happy, talking 
little to anybody, but moving, continually 
from group to group, and replying to all 
remarks with a sort of inarticulate ^ H'm, 
h'm ' that made a pleasant accompani- 
ment to conversation, like the purr of a 
cat or the singing of a kettle. Egmont 
was in high spirits, and Lord Khoos 
abused the English character with es- 
pecial good-temper. In short every one 
was happy; but no one so happy as 
Laura, who, besides sharing in the 
general enjoyment of the fine day and 
beautiful scenery, had a little private 
well of gladness in her sense of release 
from the unsympathetic attitude towards 
Heme into which her mind had lately 
been cramped. He and she were per- 
fectly good friends now, and life was 
again simple and effortless with her. She 
had got over her disappointment at Cas- 
sandra's not coming ; the melancholy 
VOL. I. 18 



274 LADY LAURA. 

thoughts that the morning's conversation 
had awakened were laid aside for a while, 
and the old inspired word was in her 
heart, that the world was very good. 
Her manner was hright and animated, 
and she talked more than was her wont, 
joining readily in the war of sally and 
repartee. 

The last hit of the way was steep and 
rugged enough to make it advisable to 
leave the horses at an inn halfway up 
the hill and climb to the tower on foot. 
As they stopped on the crown of the hill 
and looked back over the way they had 
come, a cry of admiration broke at once 
from all the party. For beautiful as was 
every step of the way, the view from 
the tower itself, when one reached it at 
last, was always a surprise. 

Immediately before them were wooded 
slopes stretching down to the green 
Llangollen valley, beyond which the 



LADY LAURA. 275 

ground rose again, but to a height in- 
ferior to that on which they stood, so 
that their sight could range unbroken 
across the undulating Denbighshire 
country, and some of the party fancied 
that they could distinguish the sea-line 
in the distance. To their right, stretched 
the plain lands of Cheshire and Lan- 
cashire ; behind them the higher summits 
of the Plinlimmon range were visible. 
The scene was at once grand and lovely, 
bold in its general features and charming 
in minute details which the strong sun- 
light vividly revealed. Tiny waterfalls 
leapt from the rocks and tumbled down 
to the lakes that slept in the valleys, 
leaving a green track behind them 
marked by a richer growth of fern 
and grass. And here and there the 
eye was caught by a picturesque ham- 
let nestling at the foot of a crag or 
a snug homestead perched on the hill- 



276 LADY LAURA. 

side, — a cottage-farm, perhaps, with 
some few acres of green meadow that 
sparkled like an emerald amid the pre- 
vailing golds. 

After they had all enjoyed the beauty 
in silence for a few minutes, Lady Sarah 
turned to Heme and said, * Now try for 
a moment to realise that all this beautiful 
scene that lies before you has belonged 
to you and your fathers for generations, 
and tell me if the thought would not 
inspire you to develop to the utmost all 
its resources of beauty and usefulness ? 

' " He looked to the north and he looked to the south, 
From the west to the east looked he ; 
And he said, 111 ride out and harry the land. 
For it all belongs to me," ' 

quoted Heme. 

^ That is very clever, but it is not an 
answer,' said Lady Sarah. 

*I admit that it is no answer. A 
better answer would be to oint to all 



LADY LAURA. 277 

the big places that are shut up all the 
year round or open only for a few 
weeks, while their owners enjoy the 
shooting and hunting of the country.' 

^And the answer to that,' said Lord 
Ehoos, *is to point to all the church 
spii'es in the country and ask whether 
the thought of boredom that their idea 
calls up is not enough to drive every 
man of spiiit across the seas. If anybody 
knows the answer to that, I shall be glad 
to hear it — if not let us have luncheon, 
for I am hungry and so I suspect is 
everybody else.' 

The provision baskets were opened and 
the party picnicked under the gateway 
of the old tower. After luncheon they 
rambled about, examining the ruins and 
seeking rare ferns, until it occurred to 
Mr. Tremadoc's prudent mind that it 
would be well to start homeward, as the 
day would close in early and the road 



278 LADV LAURA. 

was too rough to be pleasant for ladies 
after dark. However, in spite of this 
forethought, twilight overtook them be- 
fore they were halfway home. At the 
''beginning of the way Laura and Heme 
and Egmont rode together somewhat 
behind the rest of the party, talking in 
a merry intimate manner that made 
Laura feel that they were a little friendly 
clique who knew one another better than 
the others did. Her brother's friend was 
proving to be no divider after all, but 
rather another bond of sympathy between 
her and him. Then by-and-by Egmont, 
suddenly possessed by the recollection of 
another anecdote he must tell Sarah, rode 
on and left Heme and Laura tete-d-Ute, 
They had been going for some time at 
a foot-pace and had not noticed how 
dim the road was growing. Now, how- 
ever, when Heme asked if Laura would 
like to canter on and catch up the others, 



LADY LAURA. i-j^ 

she realised the darkness, and not being 
a very bold horsewoman, preferred to 
keep on at a walk. She began to grow 
nervous, though she would not confess 
it in answer to Heme's inquiries, only 
growing more and more silent as the 
difficulty of seeing the road increased. 
At last they came to a place where the 
path, which had for some way been 
sunk between two ridges, emerged sud- 
denly upon the side of a steep bluff, along 
which it formed a ledge. The rock rose 
almost perpendicularly on one side of it ; 
on the other the ground fell hardly less 
precipitously. The ledge was not wide 
enough to allow more than one horse 
to pass at a time ; and Laura, feeling 
that it would be quite impossible to 
pretend courage any longer, was pre- 
paring to pull up her horse and say 
she could not venture upon this bit of 
the way, when Heme anticipated her 



28o LADY LAURA. 

confession by himself stopping and 
saying,— 

^I am wondering what we had better 
do here. If there were anything like a 
tree within reach, I might easily tie up 
my horse and lead yours across and then 
come back for it. But I can't make 
out any tree. And the only other plan 
I can think of is to wait till the men 
come up and leave my horse with them, 
unless you would rather ride back and 
meet them.' 

^ I am quite content to wait,' said 
Laura, infinitely relieved and very grate- 
ful to him for taking it for granted that 
she could not do without help. 

In a minute they heard the grooms' 
voices in the distance. Heme shouted 
to them to come up, and they joined them 
quickly. 

The awkward bit of road was safely 
passed ; and Laura found riding in the 



LADY LAURA. 281 

dark so much more pleasant when Heme 
led her horse, that she managed to hint 
to him that she should Hke the arrange- 
ment to continue. He was quite of 
her mind; and so, consigning his horse 
to the groom, he prepared to walk the 
rest of the way by her side so as to be 
ready to take her bridle at critical 
moments. Laura, being relieved of her 
terror, became talkative again, and they 
had a very pleasant time. Somehow 
Heme got round again to the charge of 
the morning, that Laura must be mistress 
of some means or other of artistic expres- 
sion. Laura repudiated the imputation 
almost indignantly. 

^But surely, though you may do 
nothing yourself in the way of art, you 
care for what others have done ? ' said 
Heme. 

*You mean that I like music and 
pictures and poetry? Yes, in an ignorant 



282 LADY LAURA. 

sort of way. But I believe I like nature 
better.' 

' Why should you talk as if there were 
any necessary opposition between nature 
and art ? Art is only the best of nature — 
the beautiful, the great, the significant 
brought out and dwelt upon, while the 
meaningless and little are rejected.' 

^ Ah,' said Laura with a little sigh, ^ it 
is clear you care for art in a learned way. 
I think that sort of art is beyond me.' 

^ It is probably the sort of art you 
really care for.' 

Laura laughed. ^It amuses me that 
you will insist on knowing my tastes 
better than I do myself.' 

' I beg your pardon for being so imper- 
tinent. Will you tell me what sort of 
art you do care for? and then I shall 
not be left any more to my misleading 
intuitions.' 

^ I will tell you,' said Laura ; ^but you 



LADY LAURA. 283 

will only despise me. I like pictui^es of 
beautiful people and beautiful places, 
and poems in which wonderful heroes 
carry off lovely brides, and ' 

^ And in music ? ' 

'■ Ah, I don't know. I like what I 
like, when I like ; but I don't know what 
or when that is. — There, I like that ' 

She drew in her horse and stopped 
suddenly. They were just passing one of 
the small farms that are scattered here 
and there among the hills — a tumble-down 
place with a crazy roof and broken win- 
dows that had been rudely patched with 
stuff and paper, ugly enough as seen by 
daylight, but cheerful to come upon in 
the dark, thanks to the warm fireUght 
that glowed from the windows and fell 
pleasantly upon the path. It was not 
the friendly firelight, however, that made 
Laura stop and hold her breath in 
dohofhted admhation. It was a sound 



284 LADY LAURA. 

in strange contrast with the barrenness 
and poverty of the spot, — a voice rich, 
tender, powerful, pouring out the melody 
of *The Ash Grove.' 

^ That is surely Cassandra's voice,' said 
Heme after they had both listened in 
silence for a few moments. * But what 
can she be doing here, so late ? ' 

' What she is always doing — good,' 
said Laura warmly. This is where old 
Nanny Morgan lives, — a poor rheumatic 
old creature who has seen better days 
and is always grumbling over her present 
circumstances. Cassandra is a good 
angel to her.' 

^ Shall we knock at the door and per- 
suade her to come home with us ? ' 

' How surprised she will be ! I shall get 
down and go in stealthily and puzzle her. 
But we will wait till the song is over.' 

The song ended, and Heme helped 
Laura from her horse and fastened its 



LADV LAURA. 285 

bridle to the gate-post. Laura led the 
way Tip the garden path, lifted the latch, 
and pushed the door ajar. Then she 
stood back to let Heme look in. 

The room was a good-sized one, but it 
had a desolate appearance, being almost 
bare of furniture, and carpetless but for 
a tattered rug that was spread before the 
fireplace A rush-candle set in an old 
lantern, of which the broken glass was 
protected by an iron grating, only added 
to the general cheerlessness of effect by 
throwing so many shadows on the walls 
and ceiling, that it seemed to give dark- 
ness rather than light ; and its deficiencies 
were not much helped by the fire which, 
though it looked pleasantly red from with- 
out, was in truth a very poor one. On 
the side of the hearth that faced the 
door an old shrivelled woman was sitting 
upright in a wooden chair. A woollen 
petticoat in course of knitting was lying 



286 LADY LAURA, 

on her lap ; but she was not working 
at it — the needles had fallen from her 
hands and the slow nodding of her head 
showed that she was asleep. She had 
grumbled all day till she was tired out, 
and when Cassandra had tried, by singing 
to her, to divert her mind from her 
grievances, the poor old body had found 
the effort to listen as a last straw to 
her feeble intelligence and had fallen 
into a peaceful sleep. Her thin hands 
were spread out on her lap, and her 
worn and wrinkled features wore a look 
of rest that was in striking contrast with 
the expression of Cassandra's face and 
figure as they showed to Heme and 
Laura in clear silhouette against the fire- 
light. She was sitting on the opposite 
side of the fireplace with her back 
towards the door; her hands were clasped 
together, not lightly in her lap as with 
one who is pleasantly dreaming in an 



ADV LAURA. 287 

idle hour, but with a tense action that 
seemed the expression of some mental 
struggle ; and her body swayed backwards 
and forwards like a tree that is rocked 
by storms. She was not immediately 
aware of the entrance of Heme and 
Laura, but soon the draught fi'om the 
open door came to her, and she tm-ned and 
saw them. She rose without speaking 
and came towards them, making a sign 
to them not to waken the old woman. 

' How did you know I was here ? ' she 
asked as they came out mto the garden. 

^ Your voice betrayed you. Have you 
been here all day ? ' 

^ Well, yes. I came in the morning 
to have a chat with the poor old thing, 
and I found her in such very bad sphits 
that I promised not to leave her till her 
grand-daughter should come in.' 

' When will that be ? ' 

* She ought to be in now ; but she 



288 LADV LAURA. 

is suspected of having a young man at 
Cresford who tempts her to linger. And 
that is old Nanny's grand grievance. 
The poor old woman looks on Jenny as 
her property, and cannot resign herself 
to the prospect of being abandoned for 
a lover. I have been fighting his battle 
all day.' 

Cassandra spoke wearily as if the 
battle had exhausted her. 

* Poor Cassie, you are tired ! Don't 
you think you might come home now 
with us ? I will explain to Nanny that 
she must remember ' 

'No, thank you ; I must wait till 
Jenny comes in. I want to have a talk 
with her. She ought not to neglect her 
grandmother because she is happy.' 

'But surely,' said Heme, now first 
joining in the conversation, ' you are not 
thinking of walking home by yourself in 
the dark. ' 



LADY LAURA. 289 

^ I am afraid I am. I hope you are 
not shocked.' 

^ I don't like the idea of it. Could 
we not wait till the young woman comes 
in, and all go home together ? ' 

Laura was quite willing ; but Cassan- 
dra would not hear of it. She was ac- 
customed to walking alone at all hom-s, 
and had no fear. But they would not be 
satisfied, and at last she found herself 
consenting to wait till they could get 
home and send the pony-carriage to fetch 
her. 

Then they rode off, and she stood dream- 
ing in the garden while their repeated 
good-byes died away in the distance. 

Cassandra was weary, — weary of plead- 
ing the cause of the happy whose joy is 
building itself on the disappointed hopes 
of others ; weary of bidding old Nanny 
forget her loneliness in sympathy with 
har grand- daughter's happiness ; weary of 

VOL. I. 19 



290 LADY LAURA. 

preaching to another the lesson of which 
the iron was entering into her own soul. 

She was weary and tormented. For 
what did it mean, she asked herself, that 
these two should come upon her just at 
this moment as if to test the sincerity 
of all that she had been saying about 
the sweetness of self-renunciation and 
generous gladness in the joy of others ? 

Where feeling and imagination are 
active, a strong reason does not always 
prove a safeguard against superstition; 
and Cassandra could not resist a disposi- 
tion to see a fateful significance in this 
chance meeting. She had been avoiding 
Heme ever since the first evening 
they had met at the castle, for she 
had gone home then conscious of having 
betrayed herself, and she had resolved 
to risk no second scene of a like nature. 
She was determined to keep out of his 
way as much as possible, and if they were 



LADV LAURA. 291 

inevitably thrown together to abstain at 
ny rate from singing in his presence. 
It seemed to her that all her force of 
attraction for him lay in her voice ; and 
with her habit of regarding her mnsical 
talent as something apart from herself, she 
shrank from winning him through that, 
as she might have shrunk from winning 
him by magic arts, or as a high-hearted 
heiress shrinks from being courted for 
her wealth. Mere admiration coming 
from him was a mockery to her : what 
she yearned for was such tender loving 
as she had seen often lavished on women 
with nothing to recommend them but 
their power of loving back. Such love 
she saw that he w^as disposed to give 
to Laura ; and, moved at once by pride 
and generosity, she swore to herself that 
she would make no effort to steal it from 
her. So she had kept away, and left 
them to one another. 



292 LADY LAURA. 

But it was useless ; they pursued her. 
She had not sung since that first evening 
till now, and while she sang they had 
come to tantalise her with the vision from 
which she was flying. She said to herself 
that her best gift was turned to a curse, 
and she envied old Nanny who slept so 
tranquilly in her chair and would soon 
sleep for ever in her grave. And by- 
and-by when Jenny came in, radiant 
and elated from her day at Cresford, 
and Cassandra pleaded with her for 
gentleness and forbearance towards the 
aged woman whose days were joyless, 
she seemed to be pleading not so much 
with her as with the two who had ridden 
away in the darkness — not so much for 
Nanny as for herself. 

END OF VOL I. 



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